Before long, hundreds of billions of dollars will flow out of Washington and wash across every community in the country. This stimulus spending represents an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis, and defines one of the biggest stories of our generation.
How can today's news organizations possibly cover it adequately? Even if news staffs were growing, they'd be hard-pressed to keep up with the dozens, perhaps hundreds of projects that will affect individual communities. Even knowing where to look will be bewildering.
I think the new web service for journalists called Publish2 can improve the coverage – and, in doing so, help journalism and the country.
Publish2 pioneered collaborative link journalism, and it's rapidly being adapted to go a step farther: helping professional journalists enlist the eyes and ears of the audience in covering a huge story like this. The same system that now lets news organizations share links with with readers will soon enable them to ask readers to share tips, opinions and observations about how stimulus spending is working in their area.
Using Publish2's free system, individual websites can easily let users submit information about projects. Some might be whistleblowers – imagine a Citibank secretary who didn't think the company should be buying a new jet – while others will simply have questions they think should be asked. Sites can also solicit success stories, tales of stimulus spending that's working.
Reporters will be able to search a sophisticated database of all the reader submissions – for instance, zeroing in on a particular region, or a certain company, or an individual government department. The system will let them query their readers to solicit feedback and information on specific stimulus topics.
Meanwhile, Publish2 will also provide an aggregated list of links to all the best stimulus journalism around the country, which can be used to augment and extend individual websites.
New features enabling broad collaboration among journalists and citizens will be available to Publish2 users very soon, and every newsroom ought to explore the system and consider participating. To me, the effort looks like a win-win from every angle, helping individual newsrooms cover a big, sprawling story in a time of declining resources, helping enable watchdog journalism on the biggest spending spree ever, and empowering citizens to help.
This could be a breakthrough project in the field of "citizen journalism" – more accurately, a way to let professionals tap into the power of the crowd to help inform and invigorate their reporting.
I've been an informal advisor at Publish2 since the idea emerged, and have watched with interest as it's developed. I believe it's poised to emerge as a powerful, essential tool for journalists, and its business model lets it do so without costing a dime. (By way of disclosure, I have been asked to think about joining Pub2's board of directors and am considering that).
Journalists and technologists on the Publish2 team will stand behind this project to help news organizations participate as robustly as they want. I encourage you to explore the possibilities.