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Credit: By Melissa Marques on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
ProPublica has launched a new section on its site called Get Involved, to bring together all the different opportunities for its reader community to work collaboratively with the investigative news outlet.

Get Involved aims to act as "a one-stop-shop to find all of the different opportunities that exist for people to do something," senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora told Journalism.co.uk, "whether it's a discussion or contributing a story or becoming a member of a group tied to one of our investigations".

When Zamora joined ProPublica last year she said she noticed the high level of engagement which already existed.

"In what we do every day there's back and forth on Twitter and Facebook and people emailing us and people are very responsive to the work that we do.

"But there was not really a place on the site that reflected that engagement and so Get Involved is really the first time that we have a dedicated place on our site to really gather a lot of the interaction and the conversation and frankly the participation that is happening around our investigative journalism, whether it's happening on our website or happening in places like Twitter and Facebook."

She added that members of the the ProPublica team "really think about how to be where our readers are and so a lot of the work that we do is not necessarily on our website and this new space lets us bridge a lot of that activity in one place."

Examples of ways the ProPublica community can 'get involved' range from sharing their own stories with the news outlet, helping dig into data or joining a Facebook group. Last year Journalism.co.uk reported on how ProPublica built a community using a Facebook group around the issue of patient safety, which linked back to an investigation it was running on the subject.

Zamora said that "Facebook has definitely been an area of focus for us over the last year" and that she expects to "see a few more groups pop up over the next year".

"The other way that we're trying to do things a little bit differently is to do more collaborative data journalism and the last big example we had of that was our Free the Files project over the final months of the presidential campaign where we had a news app that was very much a social news app where we were inviting people to go in and help us do data analysis and offering a database back to the public about political ad data."

She added that when it comes to the participatory elements on offer, ProPublica's approach will "continue to adapt and adjust depending on really the nature of the investigation and what we think the best tools and methodologies will be to try to help answer questions and report out a particular story."

While there are opportunities for those who want to really engage in journalism processes such as data analysis, the Get Involved page highlights the "different levels of engagement" available. "There's something for everyone," she added.

"There will always be certain people who are more comfortable engaging in a discussion and simply want to have a dialogue, there are other people who are very interested in data and research and they want to get their hands on the information first-hand, there are other people who simply have a story to tell.

"So there will be a range of ways that people can participate and that was really also one of our goals was to try to kind of bring that together so that you can see the overall impact, you can see the different potential ways that you can participate without it feeling like simply a section where we're asking for people to do journalists work."

ProPublica will be measuring the levels of engagement using 'participation metrics', which will be published against stories to indicate the levels reached.

Zamora said the metrics will act as "little milestones for us to help keep us motivated".

"We would like to see higher participation rates, whether it's in a discussion or whether it's in a crowdsourcing project or whether it's in a group.

"We've already seen a flurry of people signing up for some of the Facebook groups ... and to the Reporting Network, so clearly people are seeing what we're doing and finding it easier to find these opportunities and to sign up than they were before on the site. So that's something we're quite excited about."

And she added that the benefits are not just for the news outlet, but equally for the readers as well.

"Just having an outlet where they feel that they can be heard and that journalists are actually listening and responding and interacting with them in a thoughtful way, is a huge step forward for us.

"We're not simply pushing our journalism, or our links at them. Obviously we want to have the biggest audience that we can for our work, but we're also interested in listening and that's the kind of feedback that we're getting from people, particularly in the patient harm group, is that they're having a space to share their stories and their experiences – not only with each other but with journalists in a way that they feel like they're having their voices heard."
  • Journalism.co.uk's next digital journalism conference, news:rewired, includes a session on participatory communities, looking at news outlet strategies to encouraging community engagement and involvement in editorial processes. Tickets are only £130+VAT for a full day. See the news:rewired site for details.

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