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Staffers at The Appeal announced they had formed a union. Five minutes later, management announced layoffs.
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Sept. 17, 2009, 3 p.m.

Vaughn Hagerty: How a newsroom can build a community help desk

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, and its focus is the impact of social media on journalism. There are lots of interesting articles, and we’ll be highlighting a few here over the next few days. Here’s a piece by Vaughn Hagerty of the Wilmington Star-News about the paper’s new experiment in community problem-solving. —Josh]

All good journalism starts with a question. But, who’s doing the asking?

In most newsrooms, it’s not the reader. If the reader has input, it’s usually a reaction to what already has been reported. Of course, some stories originate from a reader’s call, but most of the time the reporter and editor drive the decisions about what gets covered and the questions asked in doing so.

MyReporter.com, launched in mid-2009, turns that dynamic on its head. Now, readers are in control at the start of the process. It works like this: Ask a question, either on our Web site, via e-mail, or by Twitter. Within 24 hours (longer on weekends and holidays), a personal response will come from our newsroom describing how we plan to handle the question. While we don’t commit to answering questions that are too specific to a single person’s situation or ones seeking to resolve disputes, we’ll at least direct the person who asked to possible resources. Questions we do answer are assigned to staff reporters, who provide a timely response that we post on the site, with credit given to the person who raised the question.

This idea grew out of a discussion Star-News Executive Editor Robyn Tomlin led about how we could innovate. Like many newspapers, we use tools such as Twitter and online forums to communicate with readers. In listening to our readers, we often heard them ask questions like “What were all those sirens I just heard downtown?,” or “Who can I complain to about my neighbor’s trashy yard?” With this in mind, Tomlin challenged us: How could our newsroom provide a “help desk” for our community?

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

POSTED     Sept. 17, 2009, 3 p.m.
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