Many publishers have used crowdsourcing to shape editorial projects – some only for certain news events or topics, while others have made it a part of their core mission.
The Guardian's contributions from readers have a home under Guardian Witness, for example, and Hearken has made a business out of supporting news outlets put the audience first and create people-powered journalism.
Note to Self, the weekly podcast produced by WNYC Studios as the "tech show about being human," ran a project called Bored and Brilliant in 2015, asking listeners to track how much time they spent on their phones.
People would sign up to participate in a week of daily challenges aimed at guiding them to be more creative and spend less time glued to their mobile devices.
Manoush Zomorodi, the host of Note to Self, told Journalism.co.uk in a recent podcast that "tens of thousands of people shared their phone data with us," and not only that, but they were also keen to share what other aspects of technology they struggled with.
"One of the things that just kept coming up over and over again was information overload and FOMO, fear of missing out.
"Those were two things that I think about all the time too, particularly as a journalist, wanting to always be in the know, wanting to always feel like I am up to date on the latest.
"So we thought, 'what can we do once again to bring our listeners together as a community, but then also make this a very personalised experience?'"
They came up with Infomagical, another week-long project that first ran in February, but has since become a regular experiment due to its popularity. Whereas Bored and Brilliant gathered data and feedback from people using an app that kept track of their progress, Infomagical went a step further, using the more intimate experience of text messaging to help users cope with information overload.
More than 25,000 people signed up to Infomagical's first run in February and the project has since become a regular experiment anyone can sign up to. Participants first take a quiz about how they consume information to help them choose a goal for the week, such as being more up-to-date on the news, becoming more creative or staying closer in touch with family and friends.
Our listeners are creating data, they're sharing data, but most importantly they're sharing their stories, which I think is the most powerful thing we can do on a podcastManoush Zomorodi, Note to Self
Every day for the following five days, they receive a text each morning with a link to a short podcast, where Zomorodi explains that day's challenge and its scope as part of the larger project, often interviewing academics, technology experts or scientists.
The challenges range from single tasks – "do one thing at a time and do it well" – to decluttering the screen of one's mobile device by removing useless apps.
Throughout the day, the team checks in to follow up on people's progress, asking if they feel more or less overwhelmed than before, prompting them to rate how well they have been sticking to their goal that day on a scale from one to five, and providing them with the opportunity to leave a voicemail to share more about their experience.
During that first week in February, Infomagical sent 300,000 text messages, and people left over 1,100 voice messages, with Zomorodi listening to almost every single one of them.
"The worry I always have as a journalist is that by simplifying things, we lose some of the nuance or we are asking people to do some of the work, for example asking them 'what does more creative mean to you'?
"We tried to make it clear to people they had to do a little work and figure out what being more creative meant to them.
"Our listeners are creating data, they're sharing data, but most importantly they're sharing their stories, which I think is the most powerful thing we can do on a podcast."
The first challenge, single-tasking, was rated most popular and effective by participants, Zomorodi explained.
"This is where we see the individual and the crowdsourcing elements of the project really playing beautifully into each other.
"On the one hand, this is a very personal experience. It's up to you to decide to stick with it, to notice what single-tasking feels like, to enjoy the results.
"On the other hand, if you know that 30,000 other people this week are also trying to single-task, there is a camaraderie to that, there is also the idea that you're contributing to semi-scientific research and that you are contributing to the grander story that the podcast is telling."
To find out more about Infomagical, listen to the full conversation with Zomorodi below and check out these blog posts on the ONA website written by Ariana Tobin, formerly assistant producer for Note to Self, where she offers tips on making people-powered projects evergreen and getting the audience to thoughtfully contribute to crowdsourcing projects.
Free daily newsletter
- The Engaged Journalism Accelerator will focus on sustainability in European independent newsrooms
- Engaged Journalism Accelerator launches with €600,000 grant programme
- Six newsletters in six weeks: How The Telegraph is building a new strategy
- BBC World Service and NRK are collaborating on an investigative podcast series
- Your Voice Ohio's take on collaborative journalism starts with community events