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Networking with readers

By Billy O'Keefe

ARELIS HERNANDEZ / The Working Press
The conversation can’t end once your story is published, said panelists in a session titled, “Networked Journalism.” User-generated content is the new peg for reporters who want to remain relevant and collaborate with readers online.

Etan Horowitz, technology reporter for the Orlando Sentinel.

Etan Horowitz, technology reporter for the Orlando Sentinel.

Reporters must engage readers well after publication to create a dynamic news community that gives and takes, said Etan Horowitz, a tech writer for the Orlando Sentinel.
It took Horowitz a year to build his Twitter community of about 500 followers but now those same sources offer story ideas and share feedback.
When Apple released the new iPhone, Horowitz wanted to figure out a different way to tell the story.
On his tech blog, Horowitz set up a widget to receive Twitter feeds from people standing in line and camping out at local malls. The result was dozens of personal accounts of line fights and store drama that brought depth to the story and traffic for the news Web site.
“By tapping into this community, I was able to give readers a bigger picture,” said Horowitz, who used some of the Twitter comments in the print story.
Tyson Wheatley, producer and news manager of CNN’s iReport, said citizen journalism is “a powerful news-gathering tool,” and the impetus of CNN’S new Web site of user-produced stories.
“This is the same thing as letters to the editor,” he said, “but in a new era.”
Were it not for video shot by a student at Virginia Tech, the world wouldn’t have gotten a picture of what happened on campus when Cho Seung-Hui opened fire on April 16, 2007, he said.
That day, Wheatley said they received 370 iReports, with 2.5 million people viewing the campus gunfire video. The influence generated by these impromptu reporters has impacted CNN programming to include more of the public voice, he said.
There are some concerns though: Is it fair for journalists to compete with citizens who have no training? What legal protections are there for citizens? How can we protect against flagrant fabrication?
Educator Eddye Gallagher of Tarrant County College is open to the idea of having citizens report the news, but cautions against misuse.
“It depends how the citizen journalism is being used. Some bloggers have no concept of ethics, and they are just shooting out opinions without a fact base,” said Gallagher, president of SPJ’s Fort Worth professional chapter.
To augment reporter-reader dialogue, GateHouse Media’s Howard Owens suggests promoting stories through social book marking sites like Digg.com, Facebook and even Twitter. Exposure means more clicks and more engagement with different online communities.
After the workshop, freelancer Manny Frishberg of Seattle said he was initially hesitant to jump into the digital wave.
“I basically decided that I’ve got to learn Twitter and got to put up a Facebook and Live Journal page,” he said. “I’m also realizing this is an essential part of the business and if I intend to continue making a living out of it, I have to keep up.”