MU journalism professor Clyde Bentley and I like to engage in subversive conversations about ways to shake up traditional journalism.
Clyde was the chief architect of MyMissourian.com, a part of our operation where anyone in the community can share his or her own stories and photos. All the submissions generally appear on the Web site, and a selection of the stories also appear each week in the Weekend Missourian.
Lately, Clyde and I and the rest of our editors have been dreaming up ways to integrate the collective ideals behind MyMissourian into our overall operation. We are looking for ways to make the news more of a community conversation and less of a one-way communication stream from “us journalists” to “you readers.”
A related question we keep asking is how to fill the gap between what you might share with your neighbors and what a traditional reporter might deem worthy of a properly reported piece of “journalism.”
In January, we chose four targeted neighborhoods in which to play. We wanted to see how we might blend traditional and citizen-submitted news in an intensely local way.
Two neighborhoods were assigned pairs of Missourian reporters teamed up with citizen journalism facilitators from MyMissourian. In the other two neighborhoods, teams of MyMissourian staffers are working to gather news submitted by readers.
As for getting the stories out there, in the Old Southwest we decided to join a Yahoo! listserv residents were already using to communicate with each other. Once the Missourian reporters find stories of particular interest to that neighborhood, they post to the listserv the headlines, brief descriptions and links back to the full reports on the Missourian Web site.
Meanwhile, the Benton-Stephens team is creating an e-mail publication. They went door-to-door handing out fliers about the project and soliciting ideas and e-mail addresses. The door-to-door conversations also helped the team understand who lives in the area and what sorts of things residents want to know.
East Campus residents also are getting excerpts and links delivered regularly via e-mail, but the content is entirely submitted by the residents of the neighborhood. The final team is working to get a similar conversation going up in the Vanderveen neighborhood.
This type of on-the-street work isn’t necessarily new. I think it is where the term “beat reporting” came from.
But over the past six weeks, these reporters have uncovered a lot of little things we might have passed over before — an elementary school sock hop, a read-a-thon, a new flower shop, historic home profiles and a short bit about a resident who recently interviewed Paris Hilton (still in the works).
They’ve also uncovered some big things, too. One neighborhood story about plans to build an acute care center led the front page of the Missourian print edition that day. Another neighborhood reporter is busy digging into how the upcoming sewer bond vote has a particular significance for the residents of the Old Southwest, where many of the houses are connected to aging private sewer lines.
I hope this experiment leads to new and better ways for all of us in the community to share what we know and help each other become better informed about what is happening not only citywide but also just outside our front doors.