Roy Greene, senior assistant metro editor at the Boston Globe, explained in an article on Poynter.org how the paper used crowdsourcing to complement its World Cup coverage.
He described the four steps the Globe took, starting with creating a simple, web-based questionnaire, to identify Boston.com readers who were travelling to South Africa. The questionnaire asked for information including full name, hometown, email address, job, plans for the tournament and favourite team, and asked whether respondents would be willing to speak to a reporter. The form was posted on the home page and the soccer page just before the launch of the World Cup, and Greene saved the responses that he thought could be valuable: about a dozen, he specified.
He emailed these people to confirm details and seek photos, and then invited those who "showed potential" to contribute dispatches from South Africa. He explained what the Globe was looking for, "an interesting vignette or encounter during a game or with fans, something compelling about where they were staying or visiting."
The paper received several worthy submissions, and Greene concluded that "overall, this was a fun and colorful slice of the World Cup picture that gave our readers fresh local perspective and a diversion from the yellow cards and penalty kicks." Next time that the Globe makes this type of effort, Greene said, the paper would ask broader questions on the first submission form, to get a fuller impression of the potential contributors, and would make it possible for responders to upload photos via the form.
Many news organisations are looking at harnessing the power of the crowd to improve their reporting, now that so many members of the public are armed with cameras and are easily contactable by mobile phone. Greene writes that he was inspired by Amanda Michel's efforts at ProPublica to encourage reader participation in collaborative reporting projects. Other examples of crowdsourcing include Ushahidi, which offers a platform to allow news organisations and others to invite the public to contribute information which is then aggregated on a map, and which has been used in various crisis situations. A recent experiment at the Journal Register Co to produce its papers using crowdsourcing and free Internet tools was deemed successful.
Using readers as sources seems to be a valid reporting technique to complement, rather than replace, traditional reporting, as long as there is a way to establish that what they offer is accurate, and that their contributions are clearly identified.