Public Insight Network at CU
Introduction to PIN
The Digital News Test Kitchen, CU-Boulder’s Journalism & Mass Communication program and the CU Independent are academic partners of the Public Insight Network (a.k.a., PIN). JMC faculty and students, and student journalists of the CU Independent, can utilize the PIN system for finding and contacting sources for their reporting projects, subject to the rules governing our partner contract with PIN.
This page includes basic information and answers to common questions about PIN. For specific instruction on using PIN, please select the appropriate page link below:
- Guidance and rules for faculty
- Guidance and rules for students
- Go straight to the PIN request form (for students and faculty)
- Become a CU Public Insight Network source
Frequently asked questions
Q: What is the Public Insight Network?
A: The Public Insight Network provides journalists and journalism students with the tools to find sources that go beyond the routine standbys of reporters such as public officials and business leaders. The PIN database currently includes more than 140,000 sources (and continues to grow). These are people with expertise on a broad range of topics and issues who have volunteered to share what they know and their opinions with journalists via PIN. The system is meant to support journalists in producing high-quality journalism by giving them access to a larger and more relevant pool of sources than they could possibly assemble on their own, and a set of online tools to search for the most relevant sources for a particular news story.
Q: Who owns or operates the Public Insight Network?
A: PIN originated at Minnesota Public Radio, but its parent organization is American Public Media, the second largest producer and distributor of public radio programming and the largest owner and operator of public radio stations in the U.S.
Q: Isn’t PIN just for public media entities’ use?
A: In the beginning, that was the case. But PIN was later opened up to commercial media partners, and more recently it began taking on academic partners. CU-Boulder is one of the first few PIN academic partners. View the current list of PIN partners here.
Q: What is “Public Insight Journalism”?
A: It is a way for journalists to find the best sources and the best information. By utilizing the PIN online tools and tapping into the large PIN database of willing sources, journalists can find people with specific expertise or experiences, including searching within the confines of a geographic area, like a journalist’s home state or city; or a journalist could search nationally or by region, if an assignment requires sources from a broad geographic area.
Q: Who can sign up to be a PIN source?
A: Anyone! … College students, your relatives, ski instructors, politicians, police officers, homeless people (who use libraries for Internet access), musicians, pilots, scientists, and other people from all walks of life. Sources put information in their PIN profiles about their expertise, their experiences, their hobbies, and demographic details. A journalist using PIN will find “experts” as well as “real people” willing to be a relevant source for news reporting.
Q: What is an example of a breaking-news story using the “Public Insight Journalism” approach?
A: Here’s an example from Minnesota Public Radio. … When a Northwest Airlines pilot overshot a runway at the Minneapolis airport, MPR reporters were able to reach several pilots who had experience with the specific model of plane involved in the crash thanks to PIN. PIN also led the reporters to Hemant Bhana, who had spent 10 years as a pilot for United Airlines, works in the FAA’s Western Flight Procedures Office in Washington State, and wrote his master’s thesis on the topic of automation begetting boredom in pilots, which creates complacency in the cockpit, and how conversation and even surfing the Internet can keep pilots alert and engaged. This resulted in an editorial for MPR’s website that was distinctive.
Q: What is an example of a trends story that used the “Public Insight Journalism” approach ?
A: Oregon Public Broadcasting has used PIN to reach, connect with, and talk to people who usually are just talked about. OPB journalists have found people using PIN willing to share their personal stories about obesity, bankruptcy, suicide, and other sensitive topics for trend or enterprise stories. OPB won a Peabody Award for a series that relied heavily on PIN to find intimate stories portraying the effects of economic distress on families and individuals throughout Oregon.
Q: What about college journalists; is there an example of them using PIN?
A: Students in an online journalism course at the School of Journalism at the University of Montana utilized PIN to find sources while reporting a package of stories for NewWest.net about the energy economy of the Rocky Mountain region. Here’s one of the articles in the package.
Q: As a CU Journalism student or a staff journalist of the CU Independent, can I search the PIN database for sources?
A: Yes, but… Because sensitive personal data about individuals is stored in the PIN source database, we must comply with rules by PIN to keep that information secure, and make sure that it is used appropriately. PIN has trained CU JMC selected staff and faculty to serve as “PIN analysts” who can access sensitive parts of the PIN system. So students need to craft queries about what they’re looking for, then ask a JMC-resident PIN analyst to do a database search and send out queries by e-mail. To learn more, scroll up this page and click the link that says “Guidance and rules for students.”
Q: Why should I use PIN? What’s the advantage over “regular” reporting techniques?
A: Here are a few benefits to using PIN in your journalistic work:
- You can target questions to people based on demographics, geography, expertise, or interests (or a mix)
- Find fresh sources, not the same old ones
- You don’t have to just interview experts; also interview real people
- PIN is a great on-deadline source finder!
- PIN is best used and most valuable when utilized early in the reporting process
- It’s an efficient crowd-sourcing tool
- You can use PIN to expand the reach, depth, and diversity of your coverage
- Using PIN to find unusual or otherwise difficult-to-find sources often leads to discovering under-represented or under-reported stories
Q: OK, I understand this information. How do I get started using PIN to find sources for my reporting?
A: Fill out this form and describe in detail what you’re looking for.
Q: I still have more questions!
A: Check out the FAQ page at PublicInsightNetwork.org. You’ll probably find your answers there.