Online news organisation Vox have been developing a community around its latest international documentary series called Borders, in a bid to improve reporting and better serve audiences.
The six-part film series will focus on the impact that borders – from international borders to those separating cities and even neighbourhoods – have on people living either side of them.
Over the last three months, Johnny Harris, video reporter at Vox, has been travelling solo around the world, talking to people in different communities and cultures, to produce six documentaries that will be published this autumn.
He's kept up a large presence on social media as he's travelled, making the audience part of his reporting, using their suggestions, comments and questions to shape his journalism.
"When you call out to people who live around the world, using the internet as this huge network, suddenly you get ideas that you would have never found otherwise, that have never been covered," Harris told Journalism.co.uk.
"This is a strategy we're developing for engagement and reporting, on both ends, and we have been pursuing it on multiple different levels."
It all began in May, where Vox asked audiences where Harris should travel for the series. Almost 6,000 suggestions were submitted, and spanned every continent, including Antarctica, from people of all ages, creeds and identities.
"There were a lot of border ideas I would have never been able to dig up with my Google skills – there's only so much you can do just searching on the internet," he said.
Harris and his team whittled it down to six border locations: Japan, Svalbard, The Dominican Republic and Haiti, The US and Mexico, Spain and Morocco, and China and Nepal.
Vox then asked audiences what Harris should do in the six places, with the view for him to create regular dispatches for social media as he went along.
The focus of these videos wasn't on the main Vox Borders story, but rather the fabric of everyday life in the six places he was visiting, capturing his discoveries, reflections, and learnings among new people and cultures.
Harris, who is currently on the last leg of his journey, has been posting these updates and short stories on Facebook, Instagram, and the Vox YouTube channel, which will help mould the six documentaries he is editing for Borders.
"Sometimes it gets out of control with a lot of suggestions and recommendations, to the point where I feel strained – it's almost too much of a good thing, a little overwhelming.
"That said, there have been moments where, in real time, I will get a suggestion that leads to a really interesting outcome.
"For example, when I was in Haiti travelling up the border, we got a comment that was 'hey, if you keep going up this border road, you will stumble upon this village that is doing really cool things with these solar ovens'... and I went to the village, hung out with them, made a dispatch in an afternoon and published it.
"It was totally driven by the fact that someone had reached out to me and told me about that. It wasn't a heavy story, but it was something I was only able to do because of the crowdsourcing dynamic of the project."
He explained that people online tell him local knowledge that is similar to the kind of information you'd find from a local bartender when showing up in a new place.
"That's really valuable information, and as someone who isn't a correspondent who embeds in one area for years, I rely on that to leverage that local information in order to not only make my travels more interesting, but to make my stories more powerful.
"The fact that we can use the internet to have real-time interaction with the audience is, to me as a reporter, the pinnacle of the use of this medium.
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