How journalists can use petition site Change.org to source stories
A look at how Change.org, which carries petitions from individuals across the world, can be used by journalists to find the first-person stories driving the campaigns
Contained within those campaigns are often the stories of the individuals who have initiated the petition, and so for journalists, the campaigns can help highlight the human impact behind the headlines.
In this feature senior campaigner at Change.org Katherine Sladden, outlines the different ways the site can be used by journalists. This follows last week's Journalism.co.uk podcast on campaigning journalism last week which Sladden contributed to.
She told Journalism.co.uk she has identified an "increasing amount of campaigning journalism or journalism that kind of crosses over into campaigning as well", in recent times.
"So as well as reporting about an issue ongoing, also looking at how readers and users and people that are using media sites can engage more and become part of the story.
"I think sometimes that's just giving journalists information and helping them in that way, but in other ways it's also about how those readers can do more than that and how you bring them on a journey."
She highlighted a number of recent "good examples" of campaigning journalism, in the wider industry, such as journalist and author Clare Sambrook's work on the End Child Detention Campaign. Sambrook won the Paul Foot Award in 2010 for her campaigning journalism work, as well as the Bevins Prize in the same year.
She also referred to a petition set up by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Change.org, and supported by the Guardian, against the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer to the US. As reported by the Guardian, O'Dwyer avoided extradition after signing a 'deferred prosecution agreement'.
News outlets are also using "campaigning tools to bring people more into their stories", Sladden added, such as Independent Voices which embedded a petition within its own site for its equal partners campaign.
This means "their readers don't just read the material, they comment on it, they debate it and then also try and petition and campaign on it", she said.
Sourcing the 'compelling first-person story' and finding the longer tail
When it comes to using Change.org itself, Sladden said an important feature of the site is that it is aimed at helping "individuals around the world" set up petitions on issues that matter to them, rather than an organisation doing so on their behalf.
"So it's a very much bottom-up approach. So it's about a mother who is a carer in Scotland [and] started a petition because there was going to be huge cuts to the caring budgets in Scotland.
"So rather than an organisation, your typical NGO doing a campaign, lobbying the government".
This means the individual then "becomes part of that story".
"So she did interviews with the media and the press there with a very compelling first-person story of why it affected her. And we see that all the time on the site.
"The kind of storytelling that works for media is what works well for our type of campaigning, so having that compelling first-person story.
And she added that the story potential can then also go beyond the initial human impact.
"Then you have the story of how people are building momentum and how many people sign the petition and who gets behind it.
"And then the next step, so it's not just about clicking the petition it's about then does the government respond, or does the company respond?
"So then the story has a bit more of a longer tail than just a one hit as well and journalists can engage in it in that way too and have a few different stories coming out of this one original first-person issue."
This means journalists can find even "more opportunities to cover the issue and re-visit the issues and take their readers on that journey with them so the readers are even more engaged in the story."
Searching for stories and making contact
For journalists interested in particular subjects, there is also a search function on the site which can identify words which appear in a petition.
"So you can search by cuts, or you can search by insurance, or X Factor," Sladden said. "Every time that someone gets voted out of the X Factor and you want to see how many people are outraged by that, go onto Change.org and see how many petitions have popped up overnight about that issue".
"Right now, if you type in bedroom tax into our site, you'll come up with a few different stories of people that have started petitions because they're worried about the introduction of the bedroom tax."
Search results can also help give journalists an "interesting reflection on what issues people care about", of course limited to the community engaging with the online platform.
Sladden added that journalists can also contact the Change.org team directly and they will try and help "link up the person that started the petition with the journalist".
"We're very much about getting out the way and it's about the person that started the petition and their story, them telling it for themselves," she said. The site aims to "help those people that start the petitions connect with the media and then we step back and try and get out the way and it's about that person telling the story for themselves".
Over time the Change.org team also gets to know certain journalists and the sort of campaigns they are often interested in covering and so can sometimes "email them and tip them off to different campaigns that come up on the site", she said.
Freelancers for hire
- Advertise here: Contact
- Kat Marshall 01273 384293