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.

  • On a smaller scale I was able to pull from the collected wisdom of our viewers at WKRN when a problem with the scheduling of a Titans pre-season game was giving us fits. The game had been scheduled for 7pm on a Friday night the most advantageous time for viewers and sales. Because of a problem in Green Bay the game had to be rescheduled for a 3pm start. If we took the game live ratings would be down and it would cost us money. If we recorded the game and ran it at 7pm the results would be known and that would hamper ratings as well. The decision was to delay the game and take our lumps. I posted about this on the station’s GM blog and immediately the comments section filled up advising us not to delay the game. One viewer asked why we didn’t run the game twice, once live at 3pm and then again at 7pm. It was one of those hand slapping the forehead moments; why didn’t we think of that. We did just that and the combined ratings for both telecasts equaled what we had sold the game for. Such an easy solution we had missed in all of our hand wringing. I sent the commenter who made the suggestion two tickets to a regular season game.

  • Greg0658

    2 more data points to collect.

    1. age of the car in general 4 yr segments to fit presidencies – the years should be sorted by the January swear in to lame duck election year for obvious reasons.

    2005-2008 / 2001-2004 / 1997-2000 / 1995-1998
    thats enough, the Bush Clinton years.

    2. State of repair of the body. Are poeple driving with wreaks unrepaired? Showing the ability to have full coverage insurance and/or make body repairs.

  • Jim

    Thanks Jeff. We do plan to ask our listeners for their assignment suggestion, but we wanted to have a model on which to base it, first.

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