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Marfa Public Radio 2020 Excellence In Innovation Murrow Submission

In 2019, Marfa Public Radio took its community engagement efforts to the next level.

West Texas Wonders 2.0

In the first year of our public-powered journalism series, West Texas Wonders, our goal was to increase engagement from across our wide range and find out what our listeners are curious about.

What we learned is that community input makes our work stronger and more meaningful. That’s why, for our second year of the program, we made a move to fold listener participation more deeply into our reporting.

Our reporters looked through hundreds of questions submitted to the series since launching in 2018, and created beats that align with our listeners' interests. Then, they wrote individual mission statements prompting listeners to ask them more specific questions — about topics we know they're interested in.

The result? West Texas Wonders 2.0. We are currently gathering questions from listeners about rural community issues, border culture and immigration policies, and life amid the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin.

A New Quarterly Town Hall Collaboration

In 2019, Marfa Public Radio also teamed up with local newspaper The Big Bend Sentinel to launch a new quarterly town hall series.

Our first event, held in November, was inspired by a 2018 West Texas Wonders story about aging and dying in the Big Bend region that generated an abnormal volume of community feedback. The town hall focused on senior healthcare in the area. It highlighted the resources that do exist, but also created an unprecedented dialogue among healthcare professionals and residents about the lack of medical services that drive many seniors to leave the region at the end of their lives.

We collected 25 community Q&A questions using our West Texas Wonders platform ahead of the event. Over 100 people attended.

A Curiosity Tour: Searching For The Marfa Lights With West Texas Wonders

To celebrate the many insightful questions we've received to West Texas Wonders since launching the program, we held our first listener appreciation event in late summer of 2019.

We invited listeners on a trek to the Shurley Ranch, to search for the subject of our first ever West Texas Wonders story, The Marfa Lights — Underground Lightning, Wandering Ghosts, Or Something Else?

Local rancher Mike Shurley was our guide as we scanned the horizon for the mysterious Marfa lights — a phenomenon that's fascinated locals and tourists alike for over a century. Shurley's seen them from his property for decades, and says they're the real deal.

Accounts of the lights vary from lights chasing vehicles, to orbs dancing in the distance, to gigantic luminous balls that appear suddenly. And explanations range from the supernatural to unverified science.

Our group of 15 eager listeners, some believers, some skeptics, went out searching in the darkness. What did they see? It depends on who you ask.

Sally Beauvais is a reporter at Marfa Public Radio.