Unlocking the power of crowdsourcing by working with readers — and other journalists
The New Year tends to bring a flurry of predictions in the journalism industry about where technology is taking us. I made a prediction — more of a resolution, really — a few years ago about the need for a slow movement in social media that may be finally gaining more momentum.
One sign of that progress is the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s recent Guide to Crowdsourcing, which chronicles the way more newsrooms are using digital tools to gather news in collaboration with their audiences.
The report charts the evolution of crowdsourcing in mainstream newsrooms, from the Guardian’s landmark database on MP expenses to its more recent project tracking U.S. police killings. But the report also describes the work of European data journalists who banded together to crowdsource a story no mainstream newsroom could tell alone: Europe’s cross-border migration wave.
The journalists at Generation E partnered with newspapers in several countries to broadcast their call for stories. They collected more than 2,400, inspiring subsequent reporting on the migration wave and a partnership with Germany’s CORRECT!V to profile migrants by country.
There’s incredible promise to this kind of collaboration. Editors can commission stories that draw from the experiences of their readers but also the talents and reach of other newsrooms. If social media has taught us anything, it’s that geographical boundaries are illusory. Stories and conversation ricochet online at warp speed. Our ability as journalists to connect the dots — whether it’s mapping conversations or aggregating sprawling datasets into cohesive narratives — is only going to become more important in helping audiences make sense of the world.
I’m proud to say ProPublica’s crowdsourcing work is also featured in the Tow report, including our crowdsourced investigation into the causes and consequences of patient harm.
More than 1,000 patients or their loved ones shared their experiences of patient harm with ProPublica. Our team has been analyzing those responses internally with Screendoor, a powerful tool for collecting, searching and maintaining user-generated content. We’re also using Screendoor to power the Voices of Patient Harm, our first comprehensive look at the responses to our patient harm questionnaire. The results raises important questions about the U.S. health care system’s handling of medical errors and for many victims, marks the only opportunity they’ve had to be heard. As one contributor from Minnesota wrote:
“Patient Harm was the first time what happened to me has been officially documented …. anywhere. Just know that what you are doing means much to this silent voice out in the United States.”
We’ll continue to collect and publish these stories, but we also know that our database can yield even more powerful journalism with the help of our peers in other newsrooms.
That’s why we’ve published a reporting recipe and asked journalists interested in teaming up with us on this investigation to sign up to get involved. We’ll be working in the coming weeks to expand the call for patient harm stories, match reporters with sources, and listen to our peers to learn how we can help support more of this reporting in other newsrooms.
Social media and crowdsourcing has ushered in an unprecedented spirit of collaboration in news — that collaboration doesn’t have to stop with our readers.
Are you working with readers to report the news? Join the Crowd-Powered News Network to meet other media professionals who are passionate about collaborative journalism.