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PIN: Tell us what you know

After you tell us what you know, tell us what you want to know.

That's how I often start a conversation with folks to explain the Beacon's Public Insight Network.

The PIN, as we call if for short, is a program the Beacon uses to find new sources who can help us tell stories with a better sense of relevance. Using email as our primary tool, we ask questions about topics we are covering and reporters then use the responses we receive to help tell a story.

The Beacon operates our branch of network in partnership with KETC/Channel 9. Together, we ask our questions and share the responses in ways that best suit the public television station and this online news site. Our St. Louis network is part of a larger program operated by American Public Media and includes public radio stations and news organizations across the country.

When you read the Beacon, perhaps you have seen reports about such topics as health care reform, proposed restrictions on bicycles on two-lane roads in St. Charles County or service changes in the Metro transit system. Some of those stories contained an information box that explained that we used the PIN to help "inform our coverage." The stories may contain quotes from people who responded to our questions. That's the "what you know" part. Other times, Beacon staffers wrote stories after receiving suggestions from someone who contacted us through the network. That's the "what you want to know" part.

The Beacon began using the PIN in November 2008. Since then, more than 1,300 people have volunteered to help the Beacon fulfill our mission of addressing the news that matters the most to our community. Among other places, these volunteer sources live in Clayton, Chesterfield, Chicago, Creve Coeur, Columbia, Mo., and O'Fallon, Mo.; Edwardsville, Florissant, Festus, Glendale and Kirkwood; Maryland Heights, Sedalia, St. Charles, St. Peters, St. Louis, Crystal City, University City and Wildwood; Arlington, Mass., Arlington, Va., Carlsbad, Calif., Memphis, Tenn., and New Haven, Ct.

They work for churches and synagogues; they teach in schools or are retired teachers; they are health care professionals, social workers, bankers, attorneys, engineers and technology experts. They are retired and they are unemployed but hoping to find their next job. They range in age, race and ethnicity in ways too numerous to list. Simply put, they are you.

If you are already a PIN source, thank you, very much, for all the help you have offered. If you are not a PIN source, but would like to become one, you may visit our PIN information page to learn more. Or you may get started right away by clicking on one of the questions at the top of this page and answer the questions, but only if the topic interests you and you have insight -- not just opinion -- to share.

Whether you've been a PIN source for a while, or you're just about to become one, we look forward to learning more from you.

Contact Beacon Public Insight Network analyst Linda Lockhart.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.