Our client Noozhawk, an independent local news site in Santa Barbara, launched an interesting online journalism experiment this week. Noozhawk Asks—Information + Inspiration for Community Journalism offers readers the opportunity to influence—and even choose—what stories Noozhawk reports.
Noozhawk is leveraging the “people-powered” tools of Hearken to solicit questions and topics from readers, and to let readers vote on which of the suggested topics Noozhawk should tackle. It sounds simple enough, but if you’ve ever worked in a newsroom you know that reporting decisions typically come from the top down: Knowledgable editors control what gets covered and when. Reader input is of course considered—think Letters to the Editor and, for online news, comments—but this usually happens after stories have already been published. With this new model Noozhawk is trying, reader input is loaded in at the beginning of the reporting process. And, if things work the way Noozhawk hopes, reader input will continue to influence the direction reporting takes throughout the story’s lifecycle.
William Macfadyen, Noozhawk’s publisher, believes that Noozhawk Asks has huge potential benefits for Noozhawk itself, but also for the site’s many loyal readers: “By creating conditions for an authentic, ongoing conversation as well as cultivating possible new story leads and sources, we know our reporting will be that much more relevant to the community we serve.”
The new project will undoubtedly be a learning experience for both the site’s editors and its readers. But the potential benefits are immense: truly dynamic and on-point news reporting which, by its very nature, bridges the gap between news publisher and news reader.
The Hearken tools are also being used in a new section launched last month: Reimagine Santa Barbara. RSB is an extensive, multipart series that confronts the tax, development, vagrancy and infrastructure issues facing a declining downtown Santa Barbara. In the coming months, Noozhawk will be using the Hearken tools as a virtual town hall to focus on the issues of most concern to the Santa Barbara community.