Tag Archives: Journalist

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.

Can Spot.Us help save news organizations from advertising dependence?

I consider Spot Us, which launched today, to be one of the more important news experiments out there right now.

For those just hearing of it now: The site, dreamed up and guided by the brilliant David Cohn, shares editorial power with the community. It can begin with a story pitch by a journalist, or a news tip from your average resident. Once a story is pitched, the community votes with its wallet on whether or not to write the story. If you believe the story is worthwhile, you offer a small contribution. Once enough money is raised to hire a reporter, the story is written and offered to whatever media would like to use it.

It allows the community to be the assignment editor. The community directly tells you how much value they place on a story based on their own pocketbook.

Do yourself a favor and read far more about it in far better ways at the Spot.Us site, at the Knight Digital Media Center, at the New York Times, and a billion other places.

What makes the concept so important is that it’s a much-needed juke away from the sacred advertising model, the altar to which newspapers have prayed for so long yet is crumbling before us. This isn’t the kind of cosmetic change we’re used to hearing from news organizations trying to reinvent themselves — More blogs! Users can now comment on stories! — this is a turn-everything-upside-down-and-tear-it-all-apart attempt at finding a new business model. Or at least part of one.

Yes, I must add that I have my skepticisms, the ones that probably have immediately stirred in your head. But here’s the fun part: David is aware of these skepticisms, and as far as I know he embraces them. He knows this is an experiment (funded by a Knight News Challenge grant).

It’s part of the evolutionary process that has mostly passed news organizations by. I’ll be watching closely to see what works and what doesn’t. One way or another, we’re going to know more about our future.