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Extreme transparency: Paper opens editorial meetings to readers

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CC-licensed, thanks to turtle5001tw on Flickr.

At a time when news organizations are counting on reader participation to survive, one local paper has started holding online editorial meetings.

The daily newspaper of Litchfield County Connecticut, The Register Citizen, invites readers to participate in the inner workings of the newsroom with a daily online story meeting at 10 a.m., Monday-Friday. It's part of an ongoing transparency trend in journalism, the Atlantic recently opened up its newsroom for readers for a day to submit story ideas.

The paper has a circulation of about 230,000 -- what happens when they open up the editorial meetings to help decide what people will be reading tomorrow?

New story ideas, feedback on current issues, corrections on published stories and comments on their publication methods are some of the vital feedback staffers get in this open-door process.

IJNet sat in four of these meetings to see how readers help set the news agenda.

Publisher Matt DeRienzo and editor Rick Thomason discussed with readers some new story ideas to get more perspective on the subjects.

One of the stories "pitched" by reader who went by the nickname LM included investigating a city police officer who reportedly gave special treatment to another officer’s girlfriend. The paper followed up on that lead but did not publish a story. LM's other story suggestion about a history exhibit of downtown Torrington, Connecticut, however, was featured in the paper. (You can read it here).

Each morning, the staff brings a topic to the table for discussion. On July 11, DeRienzo opened talks with how the paper can improve accuracy and how errors get published. DeRienzo says the newspaper makes three or four corrections a week; during a typical day’s worth of web news, they make a lot more mistakes than that. To correct these mistakes quickly, last year the website launched a fact check box at the bottom of every story, so any errors readers spot can be reported immediately.

“I think the more vigilant we are about making corrections and publicizing them, so to speak, the more conscious we’ll be about avoiding mistakes in the first place and the more likely readers and sources will be to tell us when they notice something is wrong,” noted DeRienzo in the chat.

To illustrate their reader’s growing interest of correcting mistakes, DeRienzo mentioned that the chairman of the board for Region 10, Joseph Arcuri, pointed out during the July 8 online meeting that the paper was wrong when it published on the website that all of those representatives would be retiring. DeRienzo said during the chat that the mistake would be fixed immediately (and it was) but that sparked discussion with readers about how it happened in the first place.

“Pre-publication fact-checking, even pre-Web, should be the goal, no?” reader Jack Sheedy asked with an instant message.

DeRienzo responded to Sheedy's question with a hypothetical situation. “When South Main Street is shut down because of an armed standoff, would you like us to wait eight hours to tell you about it to make sure that 100% of our facts are correct?” asked DeRienzo. “Or would you like as much information, as best as we know it, as soon as possible?”

Sheedy said that he would prefer to know what they know as soon as possible, but that it should be made clear that the information is unconfirmed “at this time.” By clarifying that the information may not be completely accurate is very important, especially from an ethical standpoint.

Allowing readers to chime in helps newspapers tailor content and get vital feedback, but it will be interesting to see whether more newspapers make the effort to adopt this kind of transparency.

You can check out past online meetings or participate in future ones here.

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