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Expanding Coverage

Some site leaders court discussion the journalist’s way: By covering issues or events people care about - particularly those occurring just beneath the notice of the nearest dailies or broadcast news operations. Some also make it a point to create places to discuss issues of high regional interest, such as the environment in the West, restaurants and real estate in the Northeast. Numerous site operators reported that hits spike after local news breaks. Arbor Update picked up new posters after it became the place to mock a proposed local ordinance banning couches on porches.

A turning point came for Baristanet when a power line fell, a car caught fire, and a citizen posted a picture of the burning car. Later that day another power line fell and set off another blaze, and several tipsters e-mailed photos and one- or two-line accounts to the site. Citizens had developed a new way of interacting with the site, said co-owner Debbie Galant, and they spawned copycat tipsters who now rush to the site for every fire, storm, road closing or local government kerfuffle. 

Many sites, particularly those supported by media companies, employ editors who report news stories or features and follow up by creating related opinion polls or posting discussion questions. Most of the participation on the Free New Mexican site comes through comments from posters who respond to news links. Online editor Stefan Dill regularly joins in the comments to direct the discussion. He feeds tips back to the newsroom, particularly when legislators or public officials weigh in. Regulars “let me know about breaking news. They call me ‘WebEd.’”

But while all site operators want more citizen involvement, several have a distinct vision for the kind of content they want. “I do think we’re looking for things that meet the definition of news, in that they’re kind of fresh and not previously reported and of interest to more than just the people who are writing them,” said Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News.

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