Enticing New Sources of News and Views

By Jan Schaffer

Posted on February 17, 2011  |  Blogically Thinking

What happens when journalists fall into the habit of relying on their reliable sources? To be sure, they can turn stories quickly because they can ensure access to information. They can help their news organization keep up with breaking news that will be competitively distributed on other publications and platforms.

On the other hand, it's more likely they will hear singular rather than multiple "truths" around an issue. They'll need their "spin" radars on high. And they may find themselves rushing down the same rabbit hole as their colleagues - following a pack of journalists all reporting on, and often validating, the same master narrative, but often forgetting to test whether that narrative is really true.

Teasing out new sources for news and information provides a lot of added value for journalism. It helps journalists develop new listening posts. That, in turn, leads to an understanding of multiple perspectives - or multiple truths - surrounding a particular issue or topic. Multiple truths, in turn, help us avoid the bipolar contracts of pro/con journalism.

As important, I suggest they provide a different kind of connection for news consumers. They help ordinary people deal with their own internal conflict around a subject rather than the manufactured external conflict of partisanship or ideology.

Along the way journalism becomes more authentic. And journalists become more enterprising in asking different questions.

So how can we incubate these new sources? In response to this month's Carnival of Journalism Challenge from Spot.us founder Dave Cohn, I offer 10 ways that have crossed my radar screen. And they don't all have to come from the world of "Big-J" journalism.

1) Invite people to join a Reporting Network and assign them specific tasks, as ProPublica does. ProPublica's News Assignment Desk won one of J-Lab's Knight-Batten Innovation Awards last year.

2) Build venues to crowdsource stories and allow people to weigh in with their expertise. Check out Minnesota Public Radio's Public Insight Network (another early Knight-Batten winner).

3) Invite readers to submit ideas for stories they want covered. VTDigger is about to launch such an effort with a New Voices grant from J-Lab.

4) Use humor to entice new viewpoints. Check out how GreatLakesEcho.org invites participation with "smack downs" or "carp bombs." GreatLakesEcho is a spinoff from GreatLakesWiki.org, a New Voices grantee.

5) Invite knowledgeable members of your community to be a guest columnist or blogger. New Era News (yep, a J-Lab New Voices project) taps a legislator to weigh in.

6) Network and amplify all the news and information being produced in your community, giving a megaphone to existing voices. See the Seattle Time's Local News Partners, part of J-Lab's Knight-funded Networked Journalism collaborative.

7) Tap the university community not only to have students write news stories but invite academics to analyze data.

8) Validate those who want to contribute something other than a story. See how Voice of San Diego spotlights individual supporters.

9) Create venues for opinions like NewsWorks.org's "Junto" or the Twin Cities Daily Planet's "Free Speech Zone" (TCDP is also a New Voices grantee).

10) And if someone doesn't want to write it, let that source sing it. Check out this musical op-ed on NewCastleNOW.org (also a J-Lab New Voices startup).