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Renee Farris headshot

You Write the Headlines in This Interactive Journalism Model


What if you could decide which questions to ask presidential candidates during debates? What if you could write the headlines for the day's news stories? Would you ask politicians about climate change or write a front-page story about endangered species? Think fast, because now you can do just that. At least in theory.

A company called Hearken (which means “to listen”) has created a new model of journalism that loops in the reader like never before. This innovative and elegant solution was recently presented at the SXSW Social Good Hub. The model flips the traditional process of reporting on its head. Instead of journalists coming up with stories, the readers do. It’s essentially crowdsourcing news story ideas.

The story development works like this. First, readers submit topics for news stories. Next, those ideas are voted on. Finally, journalists take the most popular story suggestions, do the research and write the story. Then voilà! A story is published that people are eager to read.

Everyone wins. Journalists win because they spend less time brainstorming ideas they hope people might care about (fingers-crossed). Instead, writers spend more time researching the suggested topics and create higher-quality stories that perform better.

Readers also win because they have a voice in determining what the news of the day is and get to read about topics that interest them the most. The news process becomes democratic and takes a human-centered design approach. The concept is similar to crowdfunding platforms through which potential products are showcased and people vote with their money to show how interested they are before the product is even fully developed or available for purchase.

Media companies also benefit from this journalism model because they get more clicks, which increases their revenue potential from sponsors and advertisements. It’s a win-win-win.

Of course, this is only one tool in a journalist’s toolbox. There will, of course, be instances when investigative journalists need to report on things the public doesn’t know about, such as the Panama Papers. Or, when an unpopular story needs to run because it’s the right thing to do. After all, the media is supposed to be a watchdog.

But it’s easy to see how this model could make the world a better place. If the next presidential debate moderator used this tool, important issues such as climate change could potentially receive much more attention and ridiculous topics such as political candidates’ Super Bowl predictions might disappear.

According to a report from Media Matters, debate moderators have asked zero climate change questions to GOP front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Additionally, only 1.5 percent (22 out of 1,477) of all debate questions have been about climate change. In almost half (9 out of 20 debates), moderators haven’t said a peep about climate change. That's incredibly disappointing and out of touch, especially given the recent climate change talks in Paris, where leaders from around the world discussed for days the immediate threat of climate change.

If politicians implemented the platform into their websites, they could easily tell which topics and questions are the most important to their supporters and tailor their talking points to speak on issues that you and your peers care the most about. All the guesswork about what matters to people would disappear. The people who ask candidates questions shape the political conversation, and political conversations shape the world we live in. If you get to ask the questions and write the headlines, you get to change the world.

Image credits: 1) Joshua Earle via Unsplash, 2) Hearken, 3) Media Matters (used with permission), 4) Ales Krivec via Unsplash

Renee Farris headshotRenee Farris

Renee is a social impact strategist who works with companies to help them focus on key social and environmental opportunities. She loves connecting with people so feel free to contact her at renee.a.farris@gmail.com.

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