We’re excited to reintroduce Ron Jones, who returns to KCUR as Director of Community Engagement after a 20-year hiatus. Jones started with KCUR in 1980 as Production Manager. In 1987, he was promoted to Program Director, a position he held until 1993, when he left KCUR. After two decades away, he’s finally heeding Kansas City’s call to come back home.
What changes have you noticed at KCUR since the last time you were here?
There are many new faces, of course. And the physical space – the newsroom, the pledge room – has been reconfigured. The biggest difference, I think, is that we’ve gone from being broadcasters to now being producers of programming content for multiple distribution platforms that include broadcasting, online and social media.
Where have you been keeping yourself these past two decades?
I left KCUR to be Program Director at WGBH in Boston. I worked there for nine years. For a brief stint (a year), I worked as General Manager at the Boston station, WERS. I then returned to WGBH for an additional three years. In 2002, I joined Chicago Public Radio and served as Vice President of Programming for WBEZ. In 2008, I took a year off, and I joined Detroit’s WDET in Sept 2009.
What motivated your return to Kansas City and to KCUR specifically?
Kansas City is my home, and I always knew I wanted to return someday. And, of course, I never stopped being a big fan of KCUR. All those years away, I continued to listen. The station is near and dear to my heart. My friend Bill Shapiro and I have kept in close contact, and after a grant was awarded to KCUR – for the creation of a community engagement team – it was Bill who told me about the job opening. I was intimately involved in community engagement at WDET, so I saw the position as a great opportunity to come back and do similar work for KCUR.
Let’s talk about your role as Director of Community Engagement. What is your definition of community engagement? What does community engagement encompass?
We’re still working to refine what “community engagement” will mean to KCUR. Generally speaking, community engagement involves us gaining a deeper understanding of what matters most to those that live in a neighborhood or region. It’s getting to know people. It’s building relationships and trust so that people will share what’s on their minds. As a result of that learning and understanding, KCUR can provide more authentic stories and deeper conversations about where we live. In short, community engagement means working closely with others to strengthen the community.
How will your work change what listeners hear on KCUR? Is the goal to make KCUR more visible in the community or is it to bring more of the community onto the KCUR airwaves?
It’s both. You know, community engagement is a relatively new model in our business. In effect, we are opening the doors of the station, which allows us to go out into the community and simultaneously invite the community to share their knowledge and experience with us. Previously, the media would simply parachute into a community, cover a story, and leave when the story was over – never to return until there was another story. This new model is about establishing relationships and encouraging people to contribute ideas – to tell us what’s going on. If we do this right, one of the results will be the addition of new voices and perspectives on a wide array of issues involving both news and culture.
In addition to the staff at large, you have two community engagement team members. What are their roles?
Our community engagement reporter is Laura Ziegler. Part of Laura’s role is to go out into the community and to establish new sources and stories. She also works with our news department and is a part of the editorial planning process. She assists with selecting topics, deciding what we cover, how we cover it, and where it’s placed within our programming – be it a newscast, a series of stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, or a piece produced for Up to Date, KC Currents or Central Standard. Of course, KCUR has been doing this work all along, though on a smaller scale. Our goal for establishing a community engagement team is a more concentrated commitment – an effort to take what we learn from the community and to turn it into programming and news coverage.
Our social media producer, Alyson Raletz, serves as the station’s primary contact with the community via social media. Part of Alyson’s role is to find out what our audience knows and to discover what our audience members think we should be covering. Our audience, by the way, includes everyone we have listening to us already, as well as those people who live in communities underserved by the media.
What’s more, we want to reach our audience’s audience. I’m referring to each listener’s circle of friends who may not know what KCUR is – much less what the station is all about.
One obvious method of outreach is to create content that is shareable through social media. We package a story, post it to Facebook, and the people who know about us will hopefully find it interesting enough to share it with the people they know. This is a great way to raise awareness and to get people to listen and to pay attention to us.
Although it’s early in the game, have you any community engagement plans you’d like to put into practice right away?
I want us to go out as soon as possible and start listening to communities all across our region. I want us to listen to what’s on people’s minds. As we learn, our plans will surely change, but we’d like to begin by establishing some community partnerships and to arrange for listening sessions in various venues around town. I don’t anticipate taking recorders to these sessions. Rather, our goal will simply be to talk and to listen – and to let people know we are willing to listen. Collectively, our audience knows so much more than we do, so we want to hear their perspectives and ideas.
Five years from now, in what ways do you hope the station might be more engaged within the community?
Five years from now, most of the locally produced programming will be co-constructed with help from our listeners, and will be an integral part of our everyday editorial operation. We won’t have to think that hard about how we use community in our programming; it will be inculcated in our approach to producing content.
Last question: What are the top three things you want to do (or have already been doing) now that you’re back in Kansas City?
I want to bring championships back to KC sports! Yes! I want to eat all the food I’ve missed for the past 20 years. And I’d like very much to become an integral part of this great community.