Editors changing their crowdsourcing approach

The Ben Franklin Project is, among other things, an opportunity to re-imagine the newsgathering process.

Part of the re-imagining is a focus on crowdsourcing. By placing the audience — the news consumer — at the front of the process newsrooms will have a clearer understanding of what stories are of interest to the readership. Throughout the first iteration of the Ben Franklin Project both newsrooms tested varied approaches to interact with the audience and engage the crowd. Montgomery Media held a town hall meeting to start and then moved to Facebook and social media. The News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio had success utilizing social media tools but quickly learned that they key was asking targeted questions to the audience.

As the newsrooms participating in Ben Franklin 2.0 have learned, general requests to the audience about “what should we cover?” don’t work. As many editors have voiced during collaboration calls, the response to that question has been less than positive if it received a response at all.

In the collaborative spirit of the Ben Franklin Project newsrooms have posted their story budgets on this blog and have updated and edited (and in some cases abandoned) plans for some crowdsourced stories.

The common challenge newsrooms have faced is the initial engagement of the audience. Editors have expressed some difficulty in jump starting the interaction because we have not invested the time in the past.

And since we’re looking to share our experiences so others can benefit — the exact reason editors are collaborating on this process — here are a few of the techniques that have worked and lessons learned:

— “It’s easier to get a response by being as specific as possible on each information request and making it as easy as possible to contact the reporter,” says Tom Skoch, editor of The Morning Journal. Pointed asks or specific questions have provided better results for our newsrooms participating in the BFP.

— Tricia Ambrose, editor of The News-Herald (who hosted the first Ben Franklin effort) has provided details of her staff’s success in utilizing individual social media accounts rather than the newsroom’s general account when asking for audience input. Reporters and staffers have relationships with specific members of the audience who may be more likely to respond directly to that individual’s request rather than the newsroom’s wholesale approach. Also, have staffers pass on requests tied to areas outside their beat. Just because they cover city hall doesn’t mean that one of their contacts doesn’t have an interest in sports.

— Managing expectations and adjusting the approach to reaching the audience is important. New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) managing editor Mark Brackenbury writes the “response has been steady, though not overwhelming,” and notes that one of the newsroom’s story ideas “washed out.” The staff asked the audience to share their favorite travel vacation spots for a travel feature story and they “got no responses,” Brackenbury wrote. “We may have been asking too much – details, photos, etc.” The Register has received strong response to Facebook postings and email blasts, on stories about economic recovery, Facebook and social media use and a feature on what age is appropriate for a child to have a cell phone. Response to a story on government waste was, as Brackenbury explained, “slow to start, although it has picked up and we are continuing to seek reader input.” The Register is continuing the crowdsourcing by posting initial drafts of stories and asking readers to check them out and offer more feedback and input. A first draft of the cell phone story is here.

— Both Lisa Lewis and Jordan Fenster, editors of the Troy Record (Troy, NY) and Register-Citizen (Torrington, CT) respectively, have used some “retro” techniques to engage the audience. The Record provided flyers to downtown businesses who may be interested in discussing the newly installed downtown parking meters. This was designed to target business owners as well as downtown shoppers. Fenster’s team — aside from using online tools for surveys on downtown development and parking — have employed a similar guerrilla crowdsourcing campaign by leaving behind letters and business cards.

— Sites including the Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) and Daily Times (Delaware County, PA) have held live chats using free tools like Cover It Live to engage readers in discussions about story budgets and issues beyond the Ben Franklin Project.

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One response to “Editors changing their crowdsourcing approach

  1. thomas latina

    I was reading the article about getting people to participate in surveys and such.I have to be one of the few people I know who will take the time to answer surveys.I have even contacted Dr.Frank Luntz,to participate in his surveys.His technique is just great.I’ll bet I do at least 4 polls a month.
    Also the Ben Franklin Project seems to be Torrington specific,leaving Winsted out completely.It is the Register Citizen(formerly the Winsted Evening Citizen & the Torrington Register.)Getting people to come to the downtowns in either town is extremely hard,because not only do people not get out and walk around anymore,but they don’t read,are not taught civics anymore,and just consider politics a dirty word.If you look at Congresses approval rating of around 18% approval,town & state union employees that demand everything for free,rude service because you can’t fire them,you end up with an apathy of,”who cares?Why waste time if you know that nothing is going to get done?”
    I opened a shop for my ex Girlfriend in Winsted(Maria Fili,Dressmaker)and she lasted less than a year,with me paying all our bills while she tried to get her business off the ground.
    We originally were going to open across the street from the Warner,thinking that people who went to the theater,had the money to have custom made clothes.But the rent was so high,the places were all dumps,and the Warner does not pay anyone for work.Maria had talked to them about doing clothes for the actors,and last minute changes.(it’s all volunteers,)so what does the Warner really do?It doesn’t produce jobs.People go to the show,run to their cars,and get out of downtown as quick as possible.Why window shop at shops that are never open?Why stop for a drink if you can end up in jail?What else is down there?The Salvation Army?
    Then there’s the parking problem.Too bad you couldn’t knock down a bunch of those buildings and put up something new.Most of those buildings are old,unkempt,and just basically falling apart.
    Main st.itself is so full of teeth rattling potholes that I avoid it when possible.
    Add to the fact that most people in Torrinton work someplace else,because there’s no jobs left in town,and you end up with people going someplace else for entertainment.
    The car shows on Fridays at MacDonalds is one of the best things to happen to the North end.I go there to run into old friends,talk about old cars,and just enjoy the nostalgia.
    One last thing.Who do you want downtown?My ex is from Great Barrington.With all the people moving in from New York,none of the locals can afford to live there anymore,and the New Yorkers that go there don’t socialize with the locals.They want to be catered to,by people being paid minimum wage.So all the young people move out.
    Northhampton if I remember basically caters to gays and College kids.
    You cannot get students at NCCC to cross that park,and shop in Winsted,to the point that Wendys closed,because it was on the wrong side of the park.Who tells those kids not to go into Winsted?Well,I went back to school there a few years ago,and the teachers were bad mouthing Winsted.So those kids walk up and down N.Main st.then get in their cars and go home.There were kids in my class who didn’t know there was a lake in Winsted.And I asked the kids what they wanted to do when they graduated.Almost 90% of them wanted to become state workers.No rocket scientists,no curing cancer,no peace core people there.State workers.Their dream job was to become a state worker.When I went to NCCC in 1976,the town was booming,the bowling alley was packed,there were 6 clubs that had bands for the college kids to drink and dance at.
    With the onus on drinking,no one wants to drink,to the point that Winsteds bars and liquor stores have all closed.Some people may say good.But now think about all those empty stores you walk by.Who wants to go out thinking you could spend $10,000 and a year in jail for 1 drink too many.So there’s no nightlife.People don’t go bar hopping anymore.People are afraid to leave their homes,either because of being arrested for going to the local tavern,or getting hassled by the drug dealers who are taking over.
    The drug dealers don’t hassle people,but because of the news on tv,older people are afraid to walk by them,never mind talking to them.
    Until you get some large employers,like the Torrington Company,that used to employ 9,000 people,Wilshire Corp.which employed 400,BE Aerospacewhich employed 600(?)no one can afford to go out,never mind downtown.Those temp agencies have caused more havoc for the working man.most of them pay $9 an hour.If your rent is $700,you do the math.
    So if you want to get people out,about,and spending money,first you have to have a job that pays you more than just enough to pay your rent and utilities.
    I was sitting in my back yard the other day,and thought about my neighbours.Starting at the top of the hill,there’s a single woman in that house.Then her neighbour is another single woman.Then across the street from me is a single man.Then me,I rent out rooms,but basically I live alone.The guy next to me is a single guy.One of my neighbours has 4 kids,the guy next to him has 1 kid,and his neighbour has 2 kids.Then the house behind me is empty.
    So out of 9 houses,there’s a total of 5 kids,one empty house,and 5 single people.No gardens,no kids,and you never see anyone in their yards except Albert with the 4 kids.
    But I truly believe if you got some good paying manufacturing jobs,not the $9 an hour temp jobs,the problem would solve itself.But if you’re counting pennies until your next paycheck,who cares about the downtown?

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