One of the funny things about citizen journalism is the notion that most people are walking around with a thousand story ideas in their head that they would gladly write if given the opportunity.
It’s not true.
As we build our network of citizen journalists, we’re finding that some folks have a good feel for what’s newsworthy in their neighborhoods. But most don’t, and so we need to help them.
But how? We can’t know what’s going on in every neighborhood in Chicago, a city of three million people with a southern boundary that’s more than 10 miles away from our newsroom.
For us, the answer has been creating an amazingly detailed community calendar.
We started compiling it with a combination of user-submitted items and entries researched by our beat-reporting interns, whom we asked to spend a few hours each week updating the calendar.
That didn’t cut it. We often found ourselves with a willing volunteer and no information on stuff to cover in his neighborhood.
So earlier this month we hired a part-time events editor, and she’s going gangbusters.
We’ve now got dozens of neighborhood community policing meetings on the site, along with local school council meetings, arts events, etc. It’s already proving to be an invaluable resource in matching volunteer journalists with story ideas.
We also built a geographic interface to the calendar, so our volunteers can search for events near them.
Of course, none of this is free, and some of it requires a lot of work. But I can’t really think of another way to solve the problem we faced.
And we now have Chicago’s most detailed events calendar.