What’s Next In Citizen Journalism: 4 Questions For NPR’s Andy Carvin

andy.pngNewspapers are dying, magazines are closing and more journalists are finding themselves without paying gigs every day. Everyone is wondering: what does the future hold for the media? We brought the questions to the front lines, asking leaders in the field to tell us: what’s next?

We have discussed citizen journalism in this space before, but there is no denying the important role that social media and public involvement will play in the future of journalism. Andy Carvin, NPR’s senior strategist for social media, has been working for the past few years to incorporate NPR’s listeners’ input into the public radio organization’s reporting. We asked him how he makes it work, and what he’s working on.

FishbowlNY: What do you do at NPR?

Andy Carvin: Part of my role is to come up with ways to have the public add to our shows. I very much come from the perspective that the community at large knows more about any given topic than any one reporter or organization does. Tapping into the community has been a great way to expand our coverage. For example, during the presidential debates we challenged listeners to find anything they thought sounded fishy and, if they could find any primary sources to prove their point, send it to us.

FBNY: What are some projects you are working on now?

AC: We are working on a new project called Dollar Politics, and for that we sent a photographer to a Congressional hearing and took panoramic photos of the audience. Then we asked the public to identify lobbyists in the group. Being able to visually identify lobbyists is not something the average person can do, but as you build up a pool of these kind of volunteers, it’s actually kind of amazing what we’re able to do.

FBNY: How do fact check the information that you get through these projects?

AC: We don’t immediately post any information we get as part of a radio piece. It’s actually just the beginning of a conversation. Some of the suggestions we’ve had have been false positives, and no one is trying to mislead us, but sometimes people look like someone else. We use this information as a launching point for further investigation and research. Part of the goal is to assist us and submit news to us, but we want people assisting us as citizen editors and fact checkers.

There is a large number of NPR fans who are experts in a number of fields and we have started to reach out to these people in various communities through the radio. The goal isn’t simply to have a gimmicky endeavor where we tell people they are empowered to do all sorts of stuff. We want to empower our reporters to make them better journalists with better sources. It’s also about finding new ways of forming relationships with the public and cultivating the day-to-day relationships.

FBNY: Do you think the specific audience of people who are drawn to NPR gives you an advantage over other news outlets?

AC: It always helps to have a community of people who value your work and are smart and creative news junkies. We haven’t cornered the market in smart people. But we do have a unique relationship with people because they feel like they have an ownership stake in us because they have a membership to their local station. They see public radio in a way that might be different from other news entities. It definitely does help us. As more people want to work with us it would be a real shame for us to not tap into it.