Tipster at VTDigger.org
East Hardwick, VT
East Hardwick, VT
This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.
Check back for future news and updates.
Tipster 2.0: Creating a More Interactive Experience.
Based on the final report from Founder Anne Galloway.
The new Tipster 2.0 (http://vtdigger.org/tipster/) went live on April 20, 2012, on VTDigger.org, helping to make the government, business and politics website a much more interactive experience.
Editor Anne Galloway envisioned Tipster as “a way to give readers more opportunities to shape the news,” she said in a story announcing the launch of a new de-bugged platform. The first Tipster platform was hacked repeatedly, so she came up with a new version. http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/24/tipster-2-0-making-vtdigger-a-more-interactive-platform/
Key elements of the Tipster Landing page include:
Tip Drop, a short form to send information and story ideas that go directly to the site’s editors. Tipsters can identify themselves or remain anonymous.
Submit a Document, a place to upload PDFs of memos, legal documents, letters and other documents to our site. Editors then archive the material on Document Cloud.
Hot Docs, an archive of original source. It includes everything from official government reports to emails, lawsuits and memos. Readers can search the archive and download material via DocumentCloud.
A Calendar where people can find out what’s going or on post an event on the site.
The site now has a “Report an Error” form at the bottom of every story that readers can use to let the site know about mistakes, errors and clarifications. Starting this summer, VTDigger plans to publish the corrections in a separate news feed but, until then, corrections appear at the end of stories.
VTDigger is also reaching out to readers through Facebook and Twitter with questions, polls, the backstory on issues and cool links. “We have eliminated automated posts to our Twitter and Facebook feeds, and we are using social media as our Tipster forum. We are interacting with readers about stories, press events and editorial decisions,” Galloway said.
“We are not done,” she said. “Tipster is an integral part of what we do on VTDigger.org, and we plan to continue to expand on the project.”
Future plans include incorporating SoundCloud and more DocCloud functionality. The site will create a separate Report an Error section to better notify readers of corrections. The section will include responses to reported errors and feedback from readers.
“We also plan to develop a crowdsourced FactCheck popup on story pages that will enable readers to give us feedback on whether factoids used by public figures are accurate,” Galloway said.
In its first five weeks, reader reaction to Tipster2.0 has been positive. About 588 unique readers checked out the Tipster features and the site received 23 anonymous tips and 18 calendar and event postings from users. Eight messages came in via Report an Error form in the first week of its launch. The site also received one document – a memo from the executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission to the Burlington School District regarding racial tensions at the high school.
So far, tips have ranged from one-line news items to critiques of policy, but some will lead to larger stories, Galloway said
“Though we have an active comment base in which readers freely criticize our work or suggest tips, we know not everyone wants to go public with information. Tipster gives readers other vehicles to communicate with us,” Galloway said.
“I recently asked our 1,572 Facebook fans if they had any questions for the governor (I was headed to his weekly press conference) and within five minutes I had three questions in hand,” she said.
She noted in her final report, “The most powerful aspect of the Tipster project is the way it is changing our work. Readers are shaping the way we report and they are shifting the power dynamic. We don’t have to decide everything -- what to cover, who to call, what to ask -- readers can help us make those decisions when we let them. When they tell us we make mistakes, we correct our work. When they tell us we got the story wrong, we listen. “
VTDigger Launches Tipster to Solicit Reader Tips
VTDigger editor Anne Galloway flipped the switch this month on Tipster, a companion to the website she created in 2009 to cover Vermont politics and public policy.
The goal with Tipster was to design a newsgathering platform that functions like a social networking site – in a sense, a Facebook where reporters could let readers know what they are working on and ask readers for story suggestions and tips.
“We wanted to make the newsgathering process more transparent and give readers and reporters a place to work together,” said Galloway.
It would become the place where readers, reporters and public relations professionals gather to share information and discuss stories in greater depth.
Over a 10-month period from inception to launch, Galloway and developer Josh Larkin surveyed readers and further refined the concept. They invited reporters and PR professionals, as well as 100 of VTDigger’s most avid readers, to join and used their feedback to continue to hone the site.
How it Works
Tipster’s three types of members – reporters, public relations professionals and Tipsters from the general public – interact with other members by uploading and sharing documents, photos and links.
Reporters have additional privileges that allow them to create posts directed at readers. In these, they may ask for assistance on a story, solicit questions for officials, put out a call for sources or receive story pitches.
For example, a reporter can post a query on a story he or she is working on. A Tipster could offer pertinent documents. Meanwhile, a public relations professional can post a press release related to the story at hand. In addition, the three users can engage in ongoing discussions within forums, read additional posts by reporters and PR professionals and view event listings.
Galloway has created a community of readers and requires that they generate a profile. Their full name and hometown are listed whenever they participate, but they control what other information is made public.
There is also a “super secret tip” on the front page that anyone can use to instantly send a private note to the editors.
Galloway worked closely with Larkin to customize the site using WordPress. The blogging platform has become a powerful tool to operate news sites because of its ease of use. It also allows for the addition of pre-made plug-ins that enhance the website. In this case, Larkin extensively modified a plug-in called BuddyPress.
It required a significant amount of testing to before it was rolled out in early June. By October, the site was planning further refinements, Galloway said.
Marketing Tipster’s existence has accounted for roughly 17 percent of the overall $17,000 first-year budget. In addition to house ads on VTDigger.org, Galloway has invested in Facebook ads targeted to Vermont users and a sponsorship on Vermont Public Radio.
Tipster’s Next Phase
Galloway has grand plans for year two of the project, including developing a tool that would improve access to documents that are difficult to find on government websites. “We would like to develop a standalone document library and web application that ties directly into both Tipster and the main VTDigger.org site,” said Galloway. She estimates that would cost $6,000.
Additionally, Galloway envisions using Tipster to create a main document library for VTDigger, complete with a tagging and categorization system that would make it easier for readers to find official documents.
She is also considering a shopping cart tool that would allow users to add documents to their cart until they are ready to download them, at which point the items could be zipped together into one file.
Galloway believes improvements like these will cement Tipster as a formidable player in Vermont journalism.
“We will gauge the success of the site based on the number of members who join and the quality and quantity of interactions between Tipsters, Reporters and PR professionals,” Galloway says. All suggestions are welcome.This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.
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