Wednesday, 16 September 2009

How can you make community correspondents your colleagues?

I was having a really interesting chat with another web editor today about the merits of community correspondents.

Their point was that by relying on community correspondents to cover grass roots parish pump news, you are cutting reporters off from the contacts they need to get to grips with their patch. My counter was that by enlisting people to write them themselves, they become colleagues rather than contacts, and surely that's an even more valuable relationship?

Clearly though, for this to work the news site has to foster this relationship. Since coming to The Argus six months ago, I haven't done this as well as I would like, and as I embark on a renewed push to get this going, I'm after ideas on how to make it work.

Northern Echo editor Nigel Burton spoke here about how they do it. Interestingly, their citizen journalists get paid, which sadly is not an avenue open to me. So how else can it be done?

Some ideas I'm going to be trying out:

Regularly emailing the group of correspondents with stats from the site, to show how many people are visiting it.
Making the sections more than just newslists, using Steve Yelvington's theory of the three basic roles local sites should play.
Emailing new correspondents every time they upload a story, with an encouraging comment
Setting up an area on our forum for correspondents to swap tips with each other
Seeing whether it's possible to plug sites and correspondents' contact details alongside stories from their patch in-paper

I'm also considering changing my tack, which up until now has been very much to say this is your part of the site, you can do what you want with it. I think a more common motivation is wanting to be part of The Argus. Maybe asking them to stick by the style guide, rewriting intros and being more demanding when they ask how often they should upload would reap more rewards? After all, if they wanted to do it completely on their own terms, they would have set up a blog, wouldn't they?

Any other ideas gratefully received.


Anonymous said...

Maybe host semi-regular meet-ups with everyone so they can get to know each other and swap information, tips, wisdom too.

Making them feel more a part of the newspaper as a whole, rather than a set apart form the professional journalists would help.

Dilyan Damyanov said...

Could you offer them training at The Argus? Writing headlines and leads, story structure, etc? It would be very basic and won't cost you anything more than a few days but it would make them feel like "real" journalists. That way it will be also easier to expect them to stick to the style guide. (I don't mean to say they are less real than your staff; but I am guessing that such a perception exists within your newsroom or even among the correspondents themselves.)

Jo Wadsworth said...

Robin - it's funny you should say about meet-ups - I'm just off to the second one I've arranged for our bloggers, who are a much more homogenous bunch in terms of motivation. I think the motivations of our com correspondents are much more diverse, which is something I'm planning on blogging about next.

Dilyan - that would definitely be a great idea for those who are doing this as a route into journalism, and will be something I'm going to suggest. I also need ways of getting those whose main motivation is just getting their message out though, and I think better feedback is the key there.

Also - this may be controversial, but I have no problem with them not sticking to our style guide, as long as their copy reads well. I'd much rather develop their news sense and gathering skills rather than getting them to write 10 instead of ten. I am prepared for a lynching from subs on that though!