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ProPublica's ‘Get Involved’ Aims to Spur More Crowd-Powered News

With Knight Foundation support, ProPublica plans to open up more of its crowdsourcing and reporting resources to other newsrooms.

Over the next year, with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, ProPublica will be working to improve how we engage communities to help us create journalism that spurs change.

From our inception, two things have distinguished ProPublica's journalism: our focus on deep, investigative reporting and our use of data to explain how systems meant to serve the public often fall short. We employ classic investigative reporting and big data techniques both to expose problems and to illuminate potential remedies. 

ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen and deputy data editor Olga Pierce are great examples of this strategy in action. The pair spent the better part of three years investigating the root causes of patient harm in U.S. hospitals (the third-leading cause of deaths in America, by some estimates), talking to hundreds of medical providers and patients and analyzing millions of rows of Medicare data to produce Surgeon Scorecard. For the first time, patients can explore the complication rates of nearly 17,000 surgeons before they entrust their lives to a doctor. A key ingredient in making this project possible? Our community.

ProPublica launched its patient safety investigation with a call for help that has now garnered more than 1,000 responses from patients and their loved ones. Many of these readers are also active in our 3,000-member Facebook group, an open forum for people impacted by patient harm to connect with each other. Scores of doctors and academics lent us their expertise as well, helping to model our complication rate data in a responsible and useful way. 

At a time when the news industry mostly measures engagement in clicks, shares and retweets, it's encouraging to see the way ProPublica's patient safety community has grown. When the Senate convened a hearing last year on the persistence of preventable deaths in U.S. hospitals, testimony by leading advocates sparked a conversation in ProPublica's patient safety community. 

The ProPublica Patient Safety Community on Facebook.

Which leads me to a third thing that distinguishes ProPublica: For us, engagement is as much about cultivating communities as it is about getting people to click on our stories. It's no secret that ProPublica's chief goal is impact. We want our journalism to make a difference, and we see our community as active collaborators in that mission.

As journalists, our role is to gather the news and report it as objectively and artfully as possible. But anyone watching knows our journalism isn't limited to the pages we produce each day. Our readers are grateful for the work we do, but they want to know what can be done to make things better. They're clamoring for action.

One way we facilitate action is by asking people to tell us what we don't know. These "callouts" are a standing feature of Get Involved, which offers our readers the opportunity to share stories, and to connect with us and with each other. With more than 10,300 contributions since 2009, our callouts have become a growing resource for our reporters and the backbone of our community-building efforts. We hear regularly from people thanking us for simply taking an interest in them. People who want to get their stories out. People who want to see change.

Which leaves us asking ourselves: How can we do better by those who entrust their stories to us? How can we channel their passions and perspectives into meaningful action? And how can we connect readers not only to each other, but also to our colleagues in newsrooms across the country?

I'm excited to say these are questions we'll be tackling over the next year with the support of Knight Foundation. One of our first areas of focus will be revamping Get Involved to better serve our partners in journalism. We're not the only ones enlisting the help of audiences to tell important stories. The Guardian's crowd-sourced police shootings project, The Counted, is just one recent example. There are many collaborative journalism efforts in the United States and around the world that we hope to both learn from and share with our community. We'll be open-sourcingevenmoreresources from our own investigations, but also facilitating outreach among fellow journalists using digital tools to tell stories with and for their communities.

We're starting today with the creation of the Crowd-Powered News Network, a forum for journalists and others proactively engaging communities in storytelling to share ideas, practical support and best practices.

Are you creating journalism — whether online, on air or in film — in partnership with your community? Sign up now to join the Crowd-Powered News Network. 

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