My newswriting class makes me believe it’s possible. For their final projects, I require all students to link every name they mention to either an e-mail address, a Twitter page, or a Web site. Ostensibly I do it for an accuracy check. I threaten to verify with their sources that they actually spoke with the reporter, but I haven’t felt like I had to yet.
As I was walking to work today and musing on all the hits I’m getting from the lisatickledpink keyword, I wondered if news organizations should start doing the same thing. Imagine if in New York Times politics stories online, I could click on White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ name and send him an e-mail. Imagine if ESPN sent me to Allen Iverson’s Twitter page or the Wall Street Journal sent me to Ben Bernanke’s.
Yes, I know that last one is fake. That’s kind of my point. The link could help me determine if the Journal is talking to the real Federal Reserve Chair or not. It’s not as silly as it sounds. I’d like to see a news organization try my in-class experiment and add identifiers to all the sources quoted in the stories because I really think it could enhance their relationship with their audiences and their credibility. Briefly, here’s how:
- Transparency: First, it’s hard to quote anonymous sources if you have to provide a link. Second, it really lets your audience know how the sausage was made if you are listing contact information for the people you talked to.
- Accountability: Linking sources doesn’t just hold the news organization accountable. It also makes the sources answer for what they said. I’d love to see readers get actively involved and contact story sources to praise, question or square their contradictions.
- Interactivity: Providing source contact information might be enough to really jumpstart a conversation about the news. Sure, cranks might abuse the privilege, so I’d limit contact information to what is publicly available (such as public blogs, corporate or government e-mail addresss, or public Twitter accounts anyone can follow), but in the best case scenario, journalists would enable their audience to access decision makers. And we don’t have to look at this only from the big news point of view either. If the local paper published a story on my efforts to help the homeless, I’d love to get a few Tweets congratulating me or directing me to other sources of help.
- Relationships: All this directing and conversing could lead to some real working partnerships, especially if they are brokered by trusted news source. I got this idea after the traffic on my blog site has spiked in the last couple of days thanks to my lisatickledpink post (I had to get just one more reference in there!), and I know I appreciated it. I can only hope I’d be as magnanimous as she was when I got an unexpected uptick in followers thanks to a mention from the local TV station.
Maybe it’s a half-baked idea. Maybe sources wouldn’t appreciate the added attention. It might make getting people to talk to reporters even harder. But I’d like to see someone try it because two things the news needs are increased transparency and a better connection with audiences.
PhotoCredit: I captured this screen from my Twitter account to remind myself I need to tweet more.