University of Oregon

University of Oregon

Don't Wait for the Quake

University of Oregon is one of the 2015-16 winners of the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. See all 11 winners and the Honorable Mentions.



  • Ed Madison, Assistant Professor in multimedia journalism, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, @edmadison
  • Mark Blaine, Senior Instructor and Journalism Area Coordinator, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, @marquisb
  • Steve Mital, Director of Sustainability, University of Oregon
  • Dave Miller, Host of Think Out Loud, Oregon Public Broadcasting
  • Andrew DeVigal, Chair of the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s Agora Center for Journalism Innovation, @drewvigal
  • Morgan Holm, Chief Content Officer, Oregon Public Broadcasting, @morganatopb

Describe your project as a tweet

#Don’tWait4TheQuake will measure how journalism can impact Oregonians’ attitudes toward earthquake preparedness.

What are you going to test?

Natural disasters are inevitable, and their timing unpredictable. Media are charged with informing and preparing the public. Yet disaster fatigue is prevalent, and people put off emergency planning.

Oregon is located in the middle of the Cascadia subduction zone, stretching from Vancouver Island, BC to northern California. Researchers assert we’re overdue for a potentially catastrophic earthquake. Yet, only 10% of Northwesterners have emergency plans and disaster preparedness kits.

This live news experiment partners journalism students with Oregon Public Broadcasting to produce a live televised town meeting, using an innovative app to measure audience and viewer attitudes and intended actions.

How will the experiment be conducted?

Our students are partnering with Oregon Public Broadcasting to produce a live statewide-televised town meeting on the subject of earthquake preparedness. A live audience of 100 citizens, scientists, regional government officials, and students — of varying ages — will assemble in a Portland auditorium to engage with OPB “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. The hour-long program will feature playback of five multimedia news stories on the subject, produced by our journalism students in collaboration with OPB staff.

We’ll use Harvis software, developed by Andrew DeVigal, former multimedia director for the New York Times, to aggregate text message responses sent from the smartphones of live and home audiences. Harvis visually mines, displays, and reveals hidden narratives for post-screening discussion. Following the live broadcast, the program will be made accessible on OPB’s website allowing those who missed the broadcast to view and comment. We’ll also make the program and a lesson plan available on a dedicated website as curricula for secondary school educators throughout the region.

How will you know if it worked or not?

The Harvis app will quantify and display live audience and television viewer responses received during the broadcast and report on intended actions following the program. We will summarize our findings in a white paper and disseminate it to news organizations and journalism programs.

Our intent is to shift awareness about this issue, and encourage communities to prepare. We’ll partner with our local Red Cross and other emergency organizations to share portions of the telecast for their own communications efforts.

How is this project unique and innovative?

The distinguishing innovative aspect of our project is our use of the Harvis mobile app. Harvis is a mobile web application that empowers individuals to share their perspectives and be active participants in collective action-oriented dialogue by capturing their real-time emotional responses to recorded or live-media. A web-based administrator’s dashboard visualizes the aggregated responses filtered by demographic information.

By using Harvis, storytellers and facilitators can immediately and effectively surface the issues most important to the community and mine hidden stories in post-screening discussions. This mobile web tool has the potential to enable participants to co-create knowledge and measure long-lasting positive impact. We’re also implementing the “hospital teaching model” to pair student and professional journalists in newsgathering and editing. OPB and KLCC producers will mentor our students during the course of several hands-on training sessions. We’re working with various museums to incorporate exhibits that simulate the physical response of high magnitude earthquakes.

What technology platforms will you use?

As previously mentioned, the project will use Harvis to aggregate text message responses sent from the smartphones of live and home audiences. Harvis visually mines, displays, and reveals hidden narratives for post-screening discussion. In the weeks leading up to the telecast, preview video “teasers” will be produced and distributed via various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr. We’ll also use broadcast technology for advance radio interviews and the final live televised event.

How might this experiment change teaching at your school or media practices in your partner’s newsroom?

The town meeting format combined with the aggregating of responses through interactive software will transform OPB’s newsroom and our school’s ability to engage the public in new and significant ways. It adds quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis to our practice and reporting. Additionally, the project provides our students with hands-on experiential learning and mentoring through the “hospital teaching” model outlined by Eric Newton.

What could go wrong?

Opinion polls indicate that distrust of news media remains high. This is partially due to sensational fear-based reporting about storms, hurricanes, and other disasters. Our challenge will be to convey a higher level of credibility in our reporting that gives audiences a reason to take preparation seriously and to act, without using scare tactics.

If our work is ineffective at creating change, we can study participant reactions and engage in conversations with our audiences to uncover what about our messages or methods didn’t resonate. We will learn the limitations of the software, Harvis, in collecting audience engagement, and how to maximize cooperation between partnerships.