The Decibel team is beginning our next reporting project, which will focus on the Del Valle community. Since we are a community-led reporting project, we hosted two virtual listening sessions with Del Valle community members to get story ideas, and most importantly, listen to residents before we started any reporting.
One of the biggest challenges we faced in preparing for these events was finding prospective attendees. If we weren’t working remotely, we might have posted flyers up or set up a table in big gathering areas such as a park or community center to get the word out. But since we are working remotely due to the pandemic we couldn’t do in-person outreach. Instead, we contacted public facilities and asked them to share our digital flyers with the community. Del Valle only has one public library, one community center and no grocery stores, which affected the amount of people we could reach using this method.
The February winter storm caused us to lose a week of work in the middle of finding contacts. After regrouping, we decided to push back our listening events to give us and the community some extra time to recover. We also decided to try something new: hosting multiple listening events at different times in an effort to reach as many community members as possible.
We reached out to Austin City Council members, Travis County Commissioners, Del Valle ISD, libraries, churches and nonprofits that provide services to the Del Valle community. But we found Del Valle Facebook groups were our strongest resource in helping us connect with residents.
On the week of our events, we had roughly 24 RSVP’s for Tuesday and 11 RSVP’s for Thursday. But less than half of the people who RSVPed actually showed up to the event. On Tuesday we had eight people attend and on Thursday we had three people join us for this discussion at first, while three others joined us later. We got great feedback from our attendees, but we need to work on our community outreach efforts.
We kicked off both discussions with a poll. Attendees were asked “How would you rate the news media coverage of the Del Valle community?” About 50% of guests rated it poor, 38% rated it very poor and 13% rated it fair on Tuesday. On Thursday we had one vote each for good, poor and very poor coverage.
“No one talks about the good that happens here. No one knows about the history. … No one comes to help us,” one participant said.
This same participant shared that there is also a fluid interpretation of where Del Valle is and what neighborhoods are considered part of the community. The Del Valle ISD school attendance zones stretch beyond the 78617 zip code area, so families that don’t live directly in Del Valle still consider themselves part of the community since their children attend schools in the district.
Guests shared the pandemic and the winter storm have exacerbated ongoing issues within the community such as health care access, transportation and accessibility to groceries. There is currently no supermarket in Del Valle and residents shared how they have to drive to Bastrop or into Central Austin for quality food.
Something we kept hearing was how Del Valle ISD is the only place providing valuable information about what’s going on in the community. One attendee noted this can make things challenging if they don’t have a child enrolled in the district. Another participant shared how new residents may find it difficult to stay up-to-date with the community, especially if they are not involved with the school district.
On the other hand, many guests expressed what a vital resource the school district is and how there are many exciting and new programs being offered in Del Valle schools that often don't get covered by news outlets. Participants shared how positive news going on in Del Valle is less talked about in news media than crime.
“Very few things in this community are covered,” an attendee said.
Before we wrapped things up, we asked how we can get in touch with more Del Valle residents in the future. Some participants suggested Facebook groups as well as the Nextdoor mobile app. But the most powerful feedback we got was about trust. We had a participant ask us why Del Valle residents should even trust Decibel because nothing has come from previous attempts to push for change in the past. The participant stressed how tired members of the community are of speaking out only to be quickly forgotten.
Our mission is to build trust in communities that are often overlooked. This is one of the main reasons we picked Del Valle for our next project. We understand the frustration community members feel about the lack of coverage of their community. We know that we won’t be perfect, but we will continuously put our best foot forward in reporting these stories and continue going back to the community for feedback.
After the event, a feedback survey was sent to all participants asking them to rate the quality and effectiveness of the events. Survey responses showed attendees valued hearing from others on what issues concerned them and services that people need. Some responses mentioned that they wished more people were in the discussions in general, which affirms we need to do a better job at community outreach.
Our plan now is to start reporting on a few stories based on the feedback we received from these events. We will host another event with the Del Valle community in June to get their feedback on our first batch of stories. If you or someone you know lives in Del Valle and has story ideas or feedback for us, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Got story ideas, advice on how we can improve our reporting or just want to know more about what we do? Reach out to us at email@example.com.
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