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NewsWorks: I Love It

I got a sneak peek at this week. This is WHYY’s new online networked news portal for the Philadelphia region set to launch on Monday, Nov. 15.

And I love the whole idea of it. The site has more targeted entry points for community involvement than any site that has crossed my radar. They all prompt users to get involved in clever, but different, ways:

  • Junto, (a take-off on Ben Franklin’s early discussion groups) frames local topics to woo smart, civil, user posts.
  • Snarl, where people can vent about a problem and seek advice on moving forward.
  • Props, which invites compliments for people doing good things.
  • Sleuth, where users can seek answers to local mysteries. (Like why do people get to park in the middle of the street on South Broad Street?)
  • MindMap, which lets people create a profile of their influences and tastes.
  • Sixes, where users can try to sum up news in six words or less.
  • Sixth Square, which invites users to propose their own topics or questions they want answered. (Remember that William Penn laid out Philly around five original squares, or open parks, in the late 17th Century.)

The Civic Atlas maps community assets based on 12 data points.

There is also a Community News section that also has a Flickr photostream called “Eye on…,” and a Watchdog feature that focuses on public officials.

In community discussions leading up to the project, WHYY editor Megan Pinto observed in a Radio Times program, “People just light up when they have an opportunity to talk about issues where they’ve never had an outlet before.”

WHYY is collaborating with many other news and university partners in this effort, including the University of the Arts, LaSalle University, Temple University MultiMedia Reporting Lab (MURL),, the Public School Notebook and others.

“The idea is to create a site as a network,” said Chris Satullo, WHYY’s executive director for news and civic dialogue. “We want to provide a platform where more people can find [the partners’] work.”

One advantage for the smaller partners, he said, is that WHYY has the brand and recognition to be able to pose citizen questions to public officials whereas the weekly newspapers and citizen-operated news sites “are not going to get their phone calls returned.”

The project is launching as an important pilot project for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting just as Philadelphia has become a hotbed of journalism experimentation. Much of this amped-up activity was jumpstarted by J-Lab’s work analyzing the media ecosystem and making recommendations to the William Penn Foundation (WPF).

WPF’s board is soon to decide whether to allocate major funding for another networked journalism collaborative. If the project is approved, a CEO search will begin immediately. Meanwhile, Temple’s B-School-affiliated Enterprise Management Consulting (EMC) Practicum is working on sustainability models for the new initiative.

Also recently, J-Lab, with WPF funding, announced 14 Enterprise Reporting Awards that married good ideas with new collaborations among various Philly media outlets. is a logical next step for civic-journalism pioneer Satullo, who led many community engagement initiatives when he was The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Editorial Page Editor.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the first civic journalism experiment, led by editor Buzz Merritt, who engaged the Wichita Eagle in focusing on voter concerns in the 1990 Kansas gubernatorial elections.

How fitting that NewsWorks, such a excellent digital expression of those engagement concepts, is launching. Happy anniversary.

Check out the Radio Times program, featuring Satullo, Schaffer and Pinto.

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