Category Archives: Journalism

Early success and struggles, and why Central PA NewsVote isn’t Spot.Us

When Central PA NewsVote first launched last week, the initial post got 36 comments, many of which were story ideas I was very happy about. (Catch up on my new blog, in which I solicit story ideas from readers and allow them to assign me their favorite via polling, in my older entries on the subject.)

But the follow-up post, in which I actually put their ideas into poll form, had gotten just 68 votes as of 10:30 a.m. Monday. The poll had been up for several days, and it’s a high-traffic web site. That’s a very low number.

I had done my best to promote it via social media, tweeting the heck out of it and promoting it amongst my interested friends through Facebook. I suspect that led to a lot of out-of-town journalists voting, which is nice and all but not exactly what the blog needs to thrive.

Such low numbers leave it open to gaming, as I suspect one of the subjects might have started an e-mail campaign to boost its voting numbers. I noticed a quick rise in one of the story ideas.

Since I put the poll up Thursday, it had never been promoted on the home page of PennLive as the original post had. So shortly after 10:30 a.m. I got the OK to put a teaser up in our breaking news blog, which has its headlines displayed prominently on the home page. We’ll see if that improves the numbers, because I’m seeing now how important it is to have a true cross-section of readers if this is going to work.

In the future, there will be more consistent promotion in the breaking news blog and the print edition, so I’ll be less worried about voting numbers. The Web site folks did a great job promoting the launch, and I probably should have lobbied to get significant promotion for the first poll, too.

Other thoughts:

— Though it wasn’t voted on, opening myself up to story suggestions led to an A1 story that ran above the fold Saturday.

I got an e-mail from a reader with a simple idea: When someone is laid off, what do you say to the person? Does anyone really know what to say in that situation?

It was a great idea I wouldn’t have come up with by myself, and ended up being a somewhat interesting read.

— Several people have drawn the comparison to Spot.Us, and I can see why. Spot.Us, for the uninitiated, allows anyone to pitch stories, then others can vote with their wallets by donating money to hire reporters for specific stories.

David Cohn, its founder, dared to tweet yesterday that Central PA NewsVote is smarter than Spot.Us because the news organization absorbs the cost of reporting. I happen to think that’s silly modesty, as Spot.Us is a much more innovative concept in that it operates outside the traditional news organization. Anyone can reshuffle chairs inside the news organization, but it’s something else to establish a completely new model.

But that’s a silly “argument” to have. What’s important to note, though, is that Central PA NewsVote is really working in a different area than Spot.Us. There’s a big difference between the community features my blog is soliciting and the investigative stories being pitched on Spot.Us. So we’re talking much different levels of reader engagement and different ways that readers are going to use our sites.

What we do have in common, though, is an acknowledgment that democracy has a place in the news process. The more people are trying similar concepts, the more we can find out where it fits.

— I’ve been thrilled and highly appreciative – yet slightly unsettled – by all the attention the idea has gotten so far in the journalism community. Among my favorites: Alana Taylor had a nice analysis on beatblogging.org, and Jay Rosen discussed the idea in a podcast with Dave Winer (about 28 minutes in).

Thanks to all who are excited by the idea, and I hope others try it elsewhere so we can compare notes.

I’m only uneasy because I’d like to see it produce first. I don’t want this to be a gimmick, I want it to be a legitimate gateway to great stories. I want it to be a genuine involvement of the readers. As of now, it’s still just an idea, and I’m looking forward to getting the real answers.

Central PA NewsVote has launched

Thanks to all who have contributed your thoughts to the evolution of my new community-directed blog: Central PA NewsVote. It’ll be the keystone of my new job responsibility at The Patriot-News.

The idea started with a blog post in January, and dozens of comments from other journalists and readers really helped me sharpen the idea. Now we release it to the wild.

I’m crazy excited for it, and stubbornly optimistic that it’s going to work. No matter what, I know we’re going to learn a lot from it, and I’ll be sharing the lessons with you here.

I hope you’ll follow along and keep the feedback coming.

In online reporting experiment, a good start is essential

The gears are turning, and pretty soon I’ll be embarking on what Ryan Sholin called a “community-directed reporting” experiment. From here on out I’m stealing Ryan’s name for it, because it’s a good one.

The short version: I’ll soon be starting in a new role at The Patriot-News as a hyrbid mobile journalist/general assignment reporter — with a twist. I’ll manage a blog that will solicit story ideas from readers, which they will leave in the comments section. I’ll take some of their best ideas, throw them in poll form, and allow the readers to vote on which story I should tackle next. And that’s the one I’ll write, for both the blog and the print product.

Catch up on more of the thinking behind it, and more details on how the concept will work, in this post from last month. Since then, the project has moved from “That’d be a great idea” to “Got the green light” to “Holy crap, I have to come up with a real plan for this thing.”

An important lesson I learned from my Beatblogging.org experience, during which I set up a Ning-powered social network for the Hershey community I covered: It’s wildly important to get the project off on the right foot, establish the right culture early, and pray that it takes root.

What do I mean by “the right culture?” As I wrote in a Facebook note to 30 of my friends in the area, I’m seeking contributors who:

“are leaving intelligent, productive comments in the early going. I want to establish the culture where the smartasses are ostracized and overwhelmed by the valuable people, not the other way around. If that can be established in the beginning, it will become entrenched and expected behavior among everyone else. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no way my idea can work out.”

“Smartasses” is a term that got me in trouble — rightfully so — when someone found my Twitter account and posted one of my poorly worded Tweets in the comments of an introductory post on PennLive:

@ashleygurbal I ain’t skurred. I have a plan to establish the right culture…building an army now to overwhelm and nullify smartasses.

I shouldn’t have called some (obviously not all) readers that, but the point remains that it’s the users perceived as smartasses that have chased away valuable content by creating a hostile, intimidating environment. They exist on every news site and have a toxic effect.

I considered that introductory post, in which I asked for help picking out a name for the blog, as a bit of a trial run. The response from readers was, quite expectedly, mixed.

to comply with truth in advertising, you need to name the blog, “A general assignment reporter’s worst nightmare.”

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How bout naming it “Farmed Out” because you’re too cheap to go get stories, so you want them to come to you.

How long until this thing gets pranked?

I’ll give it 2 weeks until we see a story about a cat nursing a puppy.

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Have any of you heard of the saying, “unless you have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”??? My gosh, why the negativity? I think this sounds like a fun idea.

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Instead of worrying about what to call your blog, why don’t you invest that time to spellcheck all of the articles.

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You guys are a joke. Can’t wait to see great articles about spelling bees and summer camp.

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Forgive my negativity, but this is not what I’d like to see good reporters like Dan wasted on.

Respectfully, newspapers are shrinking all over and I agree with the commenter above – considering the shrinking nature of journalism please use your resources for more important things.

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I think this is a great idea! And it might give voice to some cool stories from readers that might not warrant a whole article but would still neat to hear about.

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That’s great; play the fiddle while Rome burns.

Our local, state and federal governments are getting more corrupt by the day and you don’t want to allow political discussion on a forum designed around the readers’ interests. Just sunshine and lollypops.

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Wow this sounds like a terrible idea. Has anyone ever read the comments on any of these articles. These people are going to start to determine what is newsworthy? Are you kidding me???? Look at the 81 comments on the racist flyer article and you tell me if this is still a good idea.

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The ridiculous ideas can be weeded out easily enough. I can honestly see this improving the stories that pour out of the patriot news building.

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Awesome! Too many times I’ve witnessed good community events go by the wayside and not even be acknowledged in our local newspaper.

This is coupled with an overwhelmingly positive response on Facebook, Twitter, other j-bloggers and real life people I’ve told about it. I think the success in those areas has a lot to do with me previously establishing credibility, but it still confirms to me that the audience is out there. It’s just going to take a lot of work, and maybe a lot of luck, to get this thing started right.

To that end, I’m relying heavily on social media to spread the word. I’m hoping the people who already approve of the idea can help carry some weight early on, or pass the word on to others who they think would be interested.

There remain a lot of questions about how I’ll actually implement the plan, and how I’m going to avoid some of the trouble spots that are probably on your mind. I plan to address those in FAQ format in an early post on the blog, so please let me know what you think readers (or you) will be concerned about, and I’ll try to address them now.

7 journalism-related things you may not know about me

I intend to always keep this blog on-topic. I created a side blog in case I felt the need to write about non-journalism stuff, though I haven’t been good about writing in it.

But I’ve been tagged by Sara Bozich to participate in this trendy meme, and I planned to ignore it. Then I thought: Why not keep it on-topic, but still let you all learn a little more about your beloved author?

So here are seven journalism-related things you may not know about me:

1) My passion for journalism was ignited when a news article I wrote for my high school newspaper was censored. It was about condom distribution in schools, and our principal decided that it and another story about birth control options were inappropriate for the audience. Some brought the paper home, and it would be read by smaller children, he argued.

In the process of a lengthy and painful back-and-forth with the school administration, I did a lot of research and thinking about the value of journalism. I wrote a research paper about the chilling effect of the Hazelwood court case on high school journalists (that was the first Web site I ever made, so forgive the crappiness). I learned why journalism matters.

2) At the same time, my high school newspaper was really freaking good. During my senior year we were named the Most Outstanding Newspaper for 2002 by the American Scholastic Press Association. Our state association graded us at 985/1000 (and 5 of those points were deducted because of a printing problem that wasn’t our fault, and I remember disputing the other two deductions, too). One judge wrote that “There is nothing I can think of to improve this paper.”

3) At Penn State, I was widely known as “Dan the Fan.” I wrote a weekly column for Blue, a youth tabloid produced by the Centre Daily Times that was geared toward college students, from the passionate perspective of a blue-blooded football and basketball fan. It was occasionally good, occasionally juvenile. I’m really not too proud of it. The many, many times I had a blank Word document staring at me an hour before deadline made me realize I’m not cut out to be a columnist. I couldn’t keep up with my own demand to be proud of everything I put my name on every single week.

4) I’m very, very critical of my own writing. Whenever I read a story the next morning I usually find a few things that I wish I would have done differently, and this causes me to rarely read my story the next morning. This also makes it very difficult to choose my best clips, because I dwell on that which I could have done better rather than that which I had done well.

5) To counter that negativity: Since I started at The Patriot-News in May 2006, I’ve had the most A1 stories of any reporter on staff outside of the D.C. and Capitol bureaus. Seeing my byline on the front page, unless it’s a story I really like, hasn’t carried any feeling for me in a long time.

6) The most fun I’ve ever had on assignment came during my internship for The Wichita Eagle when I had the honor of chasing tornadoes with staff photographer Travis Heying. We dangerously sped through unmarked country roads and slammed on the brakes when we ended up on a road that was full of cows. The grave disappointment was that I didn’t actually get to see a tornado land — it was forecast to be one of the bigger storms in years, and ended up being very tame — but chasing the clouds that looked like they’d develop into tornadoes was an adrenaline junkie’s dream.

7) I have the second-messiest desk at The Patriot-News, behind only John Luciew, who is running away with the title. I usually have a large stack of newspapers, way too many notebooks, as many as a dozen bottled waters or other soda bottles, a little Dilbert guy, and several Philadelphia and Penn State bobbleheads, including a hilariously misspelled “Donavan McNabb.” The best thing on the wall is easily the New York Post cover featuring a crying little Mets fan from the peak of their wonderful 2007 collapse.

Visual evidence:

Cleaner than usual

Cleaner than usual

How I want to redefine my role, and the reader’s role, in the newspaper

Once the equipment arrives, I’ll be starting in a new position at The Patriot-News as a mobile journalist, or mojo.

What that means is, correctly, still to be determined. We do know it’ll involve video, still photography, print stories and a lot of updates for the Web. We know I’ll have a laptop and an aircard, will file most of my stories from my car and coffee shops, and will aim to be in the office as little as possible.

What we don’t know is exactly what stories I’ll be covering. I’ll be one of three mojos, and the other two will focus more on being first responders to fires, shootings and other cops-related happenings.

Which leaves an interesting question: What exactly is my role going to be? Why am I better off as a mojo instead of going back to the newsroom in a more traditional role?

To me, the opportunity to take this blank piece of paper and figure out the answer is tremendously exciting. It’s an opportunity to discover a more efficient reporting model that pumps great stories into the print edition, while simultaneously feeding my need to discover building blocks to future news models.

And I think I’ve got an idea that will do both.

If I can sell my editors on the concept, I would be the author and community manager of a new blog. My stated goal will be to have at least one originally reported story per day, usually some combination of text, photography and video. Sometimes it’ll be a three-minute video with 200-word text, sometimes it could be a great photo with 800-word text.

The stories I’m looking for are next-door slices of life that are usually the first to go because of shrinking staffs. A new museum exhibit, an innovative classroom project, a personality profile, a soup kitchen gearing up for a busy time, a little-known hiking trail, a new business opening, etc.

If you check this new blog every day, you will always learn about one new wrinkle in your community. That’s a wonderful promise for a news site to make.

That’s the content. But the fun part is who decides what that content will be.

Every day I’ll solicit story ideas from my readers via comments on the blog. At the end of the day, I’ll post their story ideas in poll form, and my readers will vote on which one they want me to cover tomorrow. And that’s the one I’ll do.

I’ll no longer have an assignment editor. The collective community will be my assignment editor. What a strange concept: Asking our readers what stories they want, then giving it to them! Yes, we’d maintain veto power for outlandish stories (write about why councilman Jones sux!!!) and needs of the newsroom (if no one’s around to cover a court case), but we’d try to limit that as much as possible.

By forcing myself to write one story per day, I’m creating a reliable pipeline of stories that can be repurposed for the print product (this is where you should pay attention, my skeptical editors). No matter how cool it may be on the Web, and whether or not it succeeds in being an important step in our future, at the very least it’s producing a lot of stories for print in an efficient way.

I could also produce some great long-term enterprise through this, while packaging it in a completely new way. I think of a story I did last year in which I occasionally followed a four-year-old around for six months while I documented her transition to a new school. What if I took a video each time, wrote a short story each time, teased to the long-form print story that would eventually come each time? It’d be great to watch the process, and would build a lot of anticipation for the final project.

As for the form of the blog: Very conversational, with a persistent focus on cultivating user participation. Lots of voice, personality, maybe even wit if I’m lucky. Every day I would also offer a bevy of links: The day’s best content from The Patriot-News, interesting posts from local bloggers, thought-provoking material from around the Web, maybe even some funny videos. It would rely on a totally new skill set for journalists, one in which I practiced somewhat at my now-defunct Ning site, the Hershey Home. It’s a skill set I’d love to have a part in figuring out and teaching to other journalists.

For the reader, it’s an unprecedented amount of access to the pages of The Patriot-News. If you called up now and told an editor about the science project your child is doing, you probably wouldn’t get very far. Make that same pitch to the readers of this blog, and make it a convincing argument, and that project will be in the paper. It could be a rewarding feeling to think that you’re actually playing a legitimate part in the news.

For journalism’s future, the goal of this blog will be to foster a self-sustaining, invested community around it. We’ll implement rules aimed on creating that culture (which could be several blog posts in itself), both through the level of conversation and making clear what kind of story pitches we’re looking for.

Community-building is a skill we must, must, must master in many forms, and we’re not spending enough time practicing it. Even if it doesn’t succeed, it’s the kind of trial balloon we need to be sending out, and it comes at little to no cost.

I have my own reservations about the idea, of course, but I’d really like to hear what you all think. if you’ve heard of similar ideas at other papers, if you have any recommendations for improvement, if you’ve found any trouble spots, etc., anything would be appreciated. I’d like to allow for a day or two of comments before I e-mail a link to this entry to my editors, so your feedback could be very valuable.

UPDATE 1: I forgot to make one important point: By virtue of me taking my time to do these slice-of-life stories, that allows all the other reporters to pass their slice-of-life stories off to me and opens up time for them to do the meaty enterprise that we really need to be producing.

UPDATE 2: Wondering if it would be a trademark infringement to use the tagline: “You Decide. We Report.”

UPDATE 3: Jeff McCloud makes an important point in the comments section about ceding editorial control. He writes:

I like the idea. I just wouldn’t want to be framed in to always writing what the majority of your blog readers want. I think you need to reserve your news judgment for yourself and your editors. Of course, the rub is in the balance of that and making readers happy to know they are participating. The rub is also in making sure that readers feel they don’t “own” you and your assignments.

And I respond:

Jeff, your point about reserving news judgment is an important one and probably the trickiest thing to balance here. I think that’s likely to be developed as the process goes along. My feeling, though, is that editorial judgment is best exercised not by yanking control from the readers after it’s promised to them, but by story placement in the physical newspaper. If my readers led me to a great story, editors will see that and put it on A1. Total waste of time, and it’s relegated to B10. I just fear nullifying the entire concept if we say “You have total control…unless we don’t like your idea.” That’s kind of what the current model says.

Now if it turns out all the story ideas are bad, bad, bad, we’ll re-evaluate. As of now, I’ve got faith in the readers.

UPDATE 4: Colin Lenton weighs in via Twitter:

@bydanielvictor nice that youre excited for new role, but why do the work of 3 by yourself? won’t you diminish quality by doing too much?

And I respond:

@colinmlenton Time is probably 2nd-biggest concern. I don’t think it has to be the work of 3, though. I’ll know if I’m stretching too thin.

Colin also expanded his thoughts in the comments section, wondering whether this is the best use of staff time.

UPDATE 5: Via the comments, Daniel Klotz wonders:

I’d like to know more about how you would plan to handle more “hard news,” political, and investigative stories. You’ll get people asking you to report on things they believe are under-reported, and often those stories have a (local) political bent. How will you proceed if that’s what you’re given, rather than a more human-interest topic?

So I say:

I think my moderation skills will have to make it clear that it’s not what we’re looking for. I anticipate cutting-and-pasting the same kind of disclaimer on each entry, clearly stating the purpose of what I’m doing and what stories we’re searching for. And if I’m going to put it in poll form, there’s a little bit of active selection involved on my end.

UPDATE 6: I’ve had to work on some of those pesky newspaper stories today, so I haven’t had a chance to go through most of today’s comments to respond or highlight them. But Meranda Watling offers this interesting idea via Gmail chat:

I can’t remember if I read it somewhere or someone told me but I remember hearing about an editor who would hold office hours kind of at a local cafe.

You could try something like that as a complement.
Posting well you’ll be in certain areas and encouraging readers to come visit, tip you off to ideas.

How to promote the local music scene and deliver killer content to your news site

(Alert: This idea went from light bulb to blog post in less than an hour. I reserve the right to re-examine this post tomorrow and realize that it was a terrible idea. And let’s be clear: This is just an idea, not an actual unveiling of a new Web site feature.)

The best newspaper stories are inspirational. Maybe a profile inspires hope, maybe an investigative piece inspires outrage, maybe a feature inspires goodwill.

What if a newspaper story inspired music?

What if the news site encouraged its stories to inspire music?

The plan: You’re a local musician. You read our newspaper or news site. You write a song inspired by or in response to a local story. You upload your song to YouTube or to us. We give you prominent space on our Web site to get your name and your sound in front of a much wider audience than your MySpace page.

Obviously, there would be rules. No profanity. Just like in comments below stories, no personal attacks or slanderous material. Keep it about local or state issues.

We don’t care what kind of song it is. Punk band, singer/songwriter, high school a cappella quartet, marching band, bongo player, whatever.

We don’t care how you make your song. Play your guitar in front of your Web cam, have your friend hold a digital camera, have it professionally produced, make a music video, whatever.

We don’t care if you send in audio or video.

We don’t care what opinion you’re offering.

For the artists, it’s a great opportunity for exposure. We could include links to band sites, if they have them.

For the news site, it’s incredibly unique, interesting content provided with almost no staff input. And it’s the kind of participatory activity and user-generated goodness that readers need to associate with our site, not to mention improving our role as a leader in our community.

What do you think? Totally crazy, or just a little bit crazy?

UPDATE: Two interesting responses worth highlighting.

On Twitter, Elaine Helm sends:

I like your idea for news-inspired music. Might be hard to sustain. Would be easier to organize around an event or isue. … Could be a creative way to get people interested in news, not unlike Daily Show or Uncle Jay.

Sustainability would definitely be a problem. We’d have to have some stats ready to give to the bands to show them how many people listened to them, to hopefully incentivize them to do it again and keep the momentum going.

The point about getting people interested in news is an important one. Crazy to think that reading the news could lead to something fun.

Via the comments, Shawn Farner adds:

I have mixed feelings. :) On one hand, I’d totally watch it. On the other hand, it’s taking a source for news, a source you hope readers respect, and turning it into a sort of variety show.

It’s an interesting point and one that would certainly have a lot of people concerned. This content would have to be very clearly introduced so readers know it isn’t the usual content The Patriot-News produces.

Otherwise, though, I don’t see a problem with the newspaper occasionally untucking its shirt. I’d argue we’d have a more compelling, more human product if it happened more often.

Why journalists need to stop playing catch-up, start focusing on the next news model

News organizations won’t stay afloat and continue to provide an essential service to democracy because the public suddenly values what they’ve been selling.

They’ll stay afloat because forward-thinking leaders will make sure the news organizations are damn good at the next news model, and the next one after that. Someone is going to figure out every new model for news distribution, whether it’s tomorrow’s model or 2050’s model.

Who will figure it out? I’d much prefer it be the the journalists who have the ethical standards and story-telling skills that have long thrived. I’d much prefer it be the organizations that can maintain journalism as a decently-paid profession, attracting intelligent people to the career.

But that’s not a given, and that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing for the public that Twitter is better for breaking news than a newspaper; it’s just a bad thing for journalists that they didn’t create Twitter first.

So journalists: Let’s stop complaining about the fact that we’re getting our asses whooped at today’s news model.

Let’s just get on top of the next one.

I’ve come to see that catch-up is a silly game to play. I’m tired of reading blogs that don’t engage the readers in conversation, of breaking news that isn’t really breaking, of static storytelling when two-way storytelling is desperately needed. These are all concepts that the Internet public has mastered without the help of news organizations.

This round is over. Journalists lost.

But lucky for journalists, there are plenty more rounds to come. Time to invest our money and expertise into focusing on the next ones.

You know, while we still have some money and expertise left.

This is far from an anti-blogger screed, or any indication of journalistic arrogance. The next news model will utilize what the bloggers have done well (immediacy, diversity, voice) and lend to it what the institution of journalism has historically done well (accuracy, authority, ethics). Then we’ll add some new virtues into the fold (aggregation, curation, community-building).

What that next news model will be is a question for people far smarter than I, but I personally believe the prize will go to whoever can master those new virtues. And there’s no reason why news organizations, with their deep pockets, highly skilled journalists and histories in their communities, can’t lead the way.

Here’s the good news: This doesn’t require massive firings that suck the life out of the print product, and it doesn’t even require you to sell your entire newsroom on these new models. Those who have been carelessly labeled as “curmudgeons” can keep their opinions of the Web as long as they keep doing what they do best: Supporting the print product that still pays everyone else’s salary.

This works as long as you have others at the newspaper who are focused on innovation. Those people ought to be identified (or hired), given the space and time they need, then set loose to experiment.

The focus on today’s news model — and quite often yesterday’s — can at best slow the decline of news organizations. It’s not even doing that particularly well. When every newspaper of every size places innovation at a higher priority, even if it slightly dents the print product, we’ll have a collection of minds that’d have to be considered the favorite to find the next model.

Thought exercise: What if the public didn’t care about truth?

Truth is one of the bedrock principles of journalism, as it should be.

But what if the public decided it placed zero value in truth? What if the public decided it sought nothing more than affirmation of existing beliefs, even if it came at the expense of truth? What if the audience cared about truth as much as they care about how the newspaper tastes?

Would the news media then adjust how it values truth? Would it stubbornly hold tight to truth as a bedrock principle, even as the public decided it would no longer support that kind of product? Would it shift along with the public, giving them what they want by doing away with fact-checking and ethical responsibilities?

Which would be the right decision?

This is an intentionally absurd, heretical question. I’m curious to see how journalists and non-journalists respond, and I hope there’s some good action in the comment thread.

Defending the underlying principles of crowdsourcing

“One thing we don’t get with online sourcing : verification of the source. When you have a nickname and a maybe-fake email addy, how can you resist manipulation and ill will ? Are virtual witnesses as valuable as real ones ? How can we backup our stories with sources we can’t really identify ?”

— Someone named “JPF” on my first post about crowdsourcing

This is a point worth fleshing out. And it doesn’t bother me that I don’t know who JPF is because he/she provides valuable content.

There have been some legitimate arguments against some forms of crowdsourcing. Many have been expressed in the comments on my last two entries (Part 1 made the argument that crowdsourcing can help ease the pain of shrinking staffs, Part 2 gave some specific examples in which it can be easily, immediately and responsibly deployed.)

Virtual, pseudonymous sources are not equal to verified ones. No one has ever disputed that.

But the skeptics of crowdsourcing tend to ignore what those sources do ably provide, overstate the likelihood and significance of vandalism, and understate the value of when it’s done well.

There also seems to be a fear, which JPF expressed, that it will totally replace standard reporting practices. Nope. I’m just talking about replacing specific, wasteful forms of reporting that no reporter will miss: Traffic, gas prices, Man on the Street stories. I’m not turning over council coverage to the crowd.

Generally, the crowdsourcing skeptics tend to go directly to the council scenario and other forms of hard news. So let’s refocus the argument on the more benign uses of the crowd and show why the newsroom and the community benefit.

Legitimate source verification won’t suffer: We must remember that every deployment of crowdsourcing requires varying levels of source verification, just like the journalism we do now.

Let’s take your average Man on the Street story. You’re a reporter, and you approached a man at Riverfront Park to ask him about his opinion on the economy. You ask him for his name and his hometown, and he gives it to you.

How often does the reporter ask to see his driver’s license? How often does the reporter check that against the phone book or LexisNexis once back in the office?

For most reporters: Not very often. That’s rightly because there’s a significant gap between a man on the street and someone e-mailing you leaks and claiming to be an insider at a company.

When it comes to sources that obviously need to be strictly verified: Do you really know any reporters dumb enough to use information from an anonymous person just because it was read on the Internet? Really? Think about the mindless cariacature of a reporter that would be.

No one is talking about compromising core journalistic values. To JPF’s point: No one is backing up significant stories with sources we can’t identify. That won’t happen and it’s not part of the discussion.

Crowdsourcing creates a better product: But remember: Only in specific areas where the crowd’s collective wisdom far trumps the newsroom’s ability to make phone calls and drive out to scenes.

Part 2 covers this in-depth. I understand there will be some hesitations on gas prices and MOTS stories, but I’m trying to anticipate the opposite arguments on crowdsourced traffic updates and I just can’t conjure any up. The information will be far more current than we typically get now, and it’ll be done with zero staff input.

Crowdsourcing saves the newsroom time: A good MOTS story can take up a reporter’s entire day. No longer would a reporter have to call each individual gas station for a weekly roundup.

We don’t have as much time as we used to before the attrition and buyouts and layoffs. It’s an absolute necessity to find areas of greater efficiency, or core community stories and significant enterprise will continue to evaporate at the expense of some easily outsourced stories.

Crowdsourcing gives the readers a small sense of satisfaction: Some will get a thrill out of knowing they helped people save time by avoiding I-83 because of that ill-timed construction.

Crowdsourcing is already happening, you just haven’t been calling it that: At my paper, The Fan Line is one of the most popular features. It allows people to anonymously call in and share their thoughts on the sports news of the day.

It’s awful. It’s wonderful. You can’t look away. It even caused a local reader to start up a blog criticizing and mocking the people who call in.

When I interned for The Wichita Eagle, they had a similar feature about news that ran daily on the Opinion page. I’m sure there are countless others around the country that have figured out that people love reading candid thoughts, and they’re not concerned about where they come from.

Crowdsourcing is fundamental to the Web: And haven’t you heard? The Web is kinda important these days.

It’s part of the participatory culture that people expect out of the Web. Our we-tell-you-and-you-listen model that’s served us well since the printing press is crumbling.

Adjusting to the Web isn’t just a matter of shoveling our fantastic material so our loyal readers can experience it on their monitors. It requires a shift in all of our processes, including the new gathering process.

Easy, immediate, responsible deployments of crowdsourcing

(This is Part 2 on my series about crowdsourcing. Part 1 argued the crowd can help ease the pain of a shrinking staff, and Part 3 defended the underlying principles of crowdsourcing.)

I understand that crowdsourcing is a scary word to a lot of journalists. So I thought it would help to offer some specific examples of how it could be utilized.

When you read this, keep in mind: Staff resources are very limited, and becoming more limited by the day. We’re searching for newsroom inefficiencies, old practices we can cut or change that will open up time for the core enterprise that will keep news organizations relevant.

Something’s gotta give, and I’ve targeted these traditional story genres as areas that can be overhauled by utilizing the crowd:

Traffic: When big traffic events happen, the local Twitter community goes into action without anyone commanding it to.

About a month ago, the search for bank robbers shut down a major interstate, and the local Twitter users were sharing back-road detours. I told Twitter when I was on a jammed-up North Front Street, and one of the users said she took a different route because of it.

This is an outfit of several dozen. Now imagine if an army of the entire community could contribute to something like this, even if they’re not on Twitter. Imagine if any Pennlive reader stuck in a traffic jam could send a single text message, and alert everyone in the community to stay away from I-81 northbound.

You’d get immediate updates from every corner of the region, and you wouldn’t need to invest staff resources into calling busy police dispatchers who are just as far away from the scene and often have old information.

It could be presented in its own area, with the standard disclaimers that it’s provided by the community and not verified by The Patriot-News. And no one would care about that disclaimer, and they’d probably check it often before driving home for the day.

The risk of vandalism is minimal, you’re saving staff time, and producing a much more comprehensive product than the staff can anyway.

Gas prices: The argument I hear often is that station owners would provide false information on competitors.

But taking that scenario just a few minutes or hours down the road shows the wonderful self-policing nature of crowdsourcing. That competitor would see the false price, then offer the real price. He’d then keep an eye on the price of his station. The site could ban the fraudulent user.

I tend to think that kind of vandalism would be far more rare than the skeptics fear. But regardless of the outcome of that scenario, you’d have to consider it an outlier. Sites like GasBuddy have thrived on this model.

And as we’re searching for our own inefficiencies as staffs get smaller, the more important question to ask is: Does the slight risk of vandalism outweigh what would be a more comprehensive product for the readers, and the elimination of a time-consuming task for reporters? It’s a minimal price I’m willing to pay as we’re forced to make tough decisions.

Man on the Street: Reporters complain about these stories more than any others. And with good reason. You can’t get a mathematically representative sample and it often takes a lot of interviews to get valuable insight.

That’s a lot of staff time spent on stories that don’t add much more than the comment thread below a story on Pennlive. There’s a lot of static in those comment threads, but you’ll also occasionally find some valuable insight.

No, you don’t know the identity of hbgmom233. But when you want opinions on how Penn State will fare in the Rose Bowl, no one cares who she is except maybe journalists.

Indeed, surrounding her comments with background on her PSU fandom and follow-up questions is better than just reprinting her comments. But again, the real question is: Does that extra context outweigh a greater quantity of opinions and a considerable expenditure of time by a reporter?

Notice that this list doesn’t include council meetings. I’m a crowdsourcing centrist — I’m not sold on a responsible way to crowdsource those without making too many journalistic compromises.

We may get to that point, but I list these three now as immediate examples of ways the crowd can be responsibly deployed. These are very minimal compromises, and it just takes a cost/benefit analysis to start saving reporters’ time and producing a better product.