Journalists: Mobilize your public

Jim Colgan, a producer at the Brian Lehrer show at WNYC in New York, tells me that they started a little bit of a networked journalism (crowdsourcing …. whatever) project:

We’re getting our listeners to count the number of SUVs out of all the cars on their block, and we’re getting an overwhelming response (236 contributions so far). [Later promotion said 400 -ed] We’re going to parse the results on the show Thursday and bring on a car expert who will look at what it all means.

That’s a simple thing but that’s the beauty of it: Lots of people can join together to create something bigger. I talked with Jim a few weeks ago and he wanted to find a way to mobilize his show’s other asset — besides Brian — to do something together. And it worked.

Every news organization should be asking themselves the same question: How can we mobilize our public to find out something they want to know, to do more together than any of us could do alone? Your public is your other great asset. These people are ready, willing, and able to join up — all you have to do is ask them.

This happens on a small scale when blogging journalists ask their readers for help: ‘Does anybody know…?’ But on a larger scale, it’s easy to see that the promotional power of a newspaper or radio or TV station could be brought to bear to enlist people to gather lots of information. They could ask their audience to report how many computers there are in their kids’ classrooms for a story on technology in schools. Or they could map every pothole in town. Or they could check the prices of certain good in the store. There’s so much a public can do.

This was part of the idea behind mobilizing the people to report together. But there was another side to NewAssignment: The people make the assignments. So I’d like to see Brian’s show ask the audience what they want to ask themselves to do next.