Monday, July 25, 2011

Crowdsourcing from start to finish

It's one of the many new buzzwords in journalism right now — crowdsourcing.
Here's an example of a crowdsourced story that I'm particularly proud of, with some writing-for-the-web tips added in along the way.

Large chunks of text hurt! 
This post starts with a web-writing tip. Notice how I've got all these subheds? Subheds make reading online easier for the reader to read and digest. Use 'em — ya got the space, right? Not exactly like you have to worry about fitting the page.

Engage in Facebook and they shall come
We ask a lot of questions on Facebook, certainly more than people ask of us.
So when they do ask, we pay attention and we try to answer.
On July 20, a reader used our Facebook wall to post this: "Any progress on finding out why there is a rather useless light south of waldon but no desperately needed light at waldon and M24?"
Check out the Facebook exchange that kick-started the story.
My favorite part, of course, was the nice compliment from reader Robert Vaughan (Thanks, Robert!) attached here as a jpeg.

All that work, why not a write a story? 
It was pretty simple to send off an email to one of my contacts and get Barb some answers.
Just before I walked out the door, my MDOT contact emailed me back with the last answer — that a signal request was made by the township years ago and denied, and that future requests should also come from the township.
That sparked another question for me — what does the township think?
And another question — so just how does an intersection qualify for a signal?
I called Orion and emailed MDOT. I didn't get any immediate responses, but wrote the story with the most up to date information that I had.
I used that story to ask for even more opinions, posted the link to Facebook with an additional question and Tweeted the question w/link from both my reporter and The Oakland Press Twitter accounts.
Check out the story, YOU TELL US: Does Waldon Road at M-24 in Orion Township need a signal?
Oh yeah, and I built a Google Map too.

View Waldon Road and M-24 intersection in a larger map

The final story
The follow-up
I talked with the Orion Township supervisor.
I did the research on what qualifies an intersection for a signal.
And I heard from people — I heard from my Tweeps, I read the story comments and got even more opinions from Facebook.
I even got an old-fashioned email and an even older-fashioned phone call too! (Click on those links for today's tongue-in-cheek joke)
Finally, I wrapped it all up for one big web story: 'It's dangerous' says Orion Township supervisor of Waldon Road, M-24 intersection
Then, I cut it to hell for print. Ha! Just kidding. But I did do some serious trimming. The web story is nearly 40 inches, the condensed print version is 20 inches but I was very considerate in my cutting.

Prepped for print
The print version included a lot of paraphrasing to get it shorter, but I don't think there are any big holes in it.
We're letting print readers know that our website is host to an expanded version of the story, and we're using a QR code that will take them right to it.

Writing for the web
Here's some things to note about the final story,  'It's dangerous' says Orion Township supervisor of Waldon Road, M-24 intersection
• Bullet point lists are easier to read and digest online. It's been proven that readers like them, so use them. I didn't even list all the warrants for the print version, but online, every warrant sticks out as a bullet point.
• Lots of links — from previous stories to the Facebook conversation to big nouns mentioned, like MDOT or Orion Township, and of course, to the links I used while researching the article.
• Subheds — again, they make reading easier. Web story has a bunch of subheds, print story has none.
• Multi-media — It might just be a Google map, but that's a step in the right direction.