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March 22, 2017, 11:23 a.m.
Audience & Social

Want a calmer place to discover and discuss The Washington Post’s reporting? Try this Facebook group

“There’s a reason the group’s called PostThis — we want people to take stories we share there and actually post them to their own networks.”

Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold started reporting on President Trump’s charitable donation promises last summer, crowdsourcing names of charities from his Twitter followers and painstakingly recording in public the list of charities he’s called in an attempt to find some that Trump actually donates to. Interest in his work has decidedly risen: Fahrenthold now has 345,000 followers on Twitter and regular gig on CNN.

“When he first started, Dave’s work wasn’t getting the audience it’s now getting. It took a while for people to recognize what he was doing,” Terri Rupar, digital editor for the Washington Post’s national desk, said. To reach an even broader audience, “what if we could use a network that already exists, using some of that network he’s built up?”

The Post launched a Facebook group PostThis at the end of last week as a place for Post readers especially interested in accountability journalism stories to find them and to ask questions about how the work was done. The group is just a few days old and its mandate is relatively open, but so far Post reporters have posted and offered to answer questions on pieces they’ve worked on. Rupar said she’s also open to journalists from non-Post outlets weighing in to share their own stories and explaining the reporting processes behind them.

The group is closed to give moderators some more control, but everyone who currently requests to join will be approved. It’s not a subscribers-only group (like The Boston Globe’s) or one based around a real-life group of people (like Vox’s group for Obamacare enrollees). The Post itself has 30-some Facebook pages where it pushes out its stories to readers. Several years ago, it set up a Facebook group for veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’ve done Facebook groups in the past, and were a little unsure about using it for this. But when I was going through all the possibilities — how to set it up, how to spread the word — I kept coming back to Facebook. Basically everyone is there, and it’s where people already share the news,” Rupar said. “We’re open to seeing where PostThis goes, but I know if it’s just a space where we broadcast stories, it’s going to be unsuccessful. We figured that if we create a place that makes it easier for people to find our accountability journalism and share it, that would be good for our readers, and good for us.”

The Post has tested online communities like a Slack for politics “junkies,” a Slack for women to discuss the wage gap, and a Facebook Messenger bot to track people’s feelings leading up to the election. But Rupar said she specifically wants this group to be a network that serves up good accountability stories that don’t have obvious, baked-in giant audiences, that might get lost in the stream of stories the Post publishes each day (around 1,200 text articles, graphics, and videos).

She pointed to a recent Media Insight Project study that found people appeared to base their trust in a story on the person who shared it more than the news organization that published it in the first place.

“There’s a reason the group’s called PostThis — we want people to take stories we share there and actually post them to their own networks,” Rupar said. “We’re hoping to build a network of people who’re interested in what we and others have been doing in terms of quality journalism.”

“There’s a lot of news and analysis being published constantly, and it can be hard even for someone who works in journalism to keep up with” she added. “Seeing how Dave [Fahrenthold]’s following grew in the past year helped me realize how much people want to be active around accountability journalism and fact-checking.”

Image from the Washington Post PostThis Facebook page used with permission.
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POSTED     March 22, 2017, 11:23 a.m.
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