How to use callouts for reporting

by Jessica Weiss
Apr 15, 2013 in Miscellaneous

New York City-based nonprofit news organization ProPublica is breaking ground with how it invites its community of readers to get involved with its stories.

To help engage readers who are knowledgeable and interested in a subject, ProPublica asks readers to answer callouts: simple, free questionnaires created with Google Docs. For example, when investigating housing discrimination, reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones posted this callout.

ProPublica created a detailed tipsheet on how to use callouts. Here are IJNet’s key takeaways:

Focus your callout: What do you want to learn?

Your callout should start with a specific question that your readers can identify with and to which they can respond. Craft a short introduction that outline examples of the types of stories you’re seeking. Explain what you’re asking for and why it matters. Finally, make a list of key data points you hope to find and make each into a question, as Hannah-Jones did with "Have you experienced housing discrimination?"

Create your form in Google Docs

  1. Create a new form and give it a specific and engaging title.

  2. Add a brief description. Provide an alternative way for readers to contact you and explain how you plan to use the information. (ProPublica generally lets readers know that they don’t publish any of their information without permission.)

  3. Enter the questions you outlined before as individual entries in the form. Keep questions as concise as possible. Choose a format for each question that will make it easier to sort the responses later.

    • Text: use for short answers, such as name and location
    • Paragraph text: use for open-ended questions
    • Multiple choice: use to define a list of answers for readers to choose from. You can also enable “add other” so readers can submit an answer not already on your list. Multiple-choice questions allow only one answer per question.
    • Checkboxes: to define a list of answers readers can choose from. Enable “add other” if you want readers to be able to submit a different answer. Check lists allow multiple answers per question.
    • Choose from a list: use this to create a drop-down menu, where readers can choose just one response.
    • Scale: you might use this to have readers “score” the severity of a problem.
  4. Don’t forget to gather basics. It’s a good idea to require the following fields: the open-ended response, the person’s first and last name, contact information and location.

  5. Thank your readers. When you finish making your form, customize an automatic response to let readers know what they should expect next.

Embed the form

Once you are happy with your form:

  1. Click “choose a response destination” to designate a spreadsheet that will collect your form submissions. This will usually be a brand-new spreadsheet, but you could also use an existing spreadsheet.

  2. Embed your form by going to the File menu and selecting “embed.” Set the maximum height and width, then copy the HTML into your post.

Work with the results

You can embed the callout on numerous sites with the same embed code. The responses will all go to the same place and are only accessible to people with permission to view or edit the Google spreadsheet. Invite collaborators by navigating to "File" and selecting “Share.” You can also set up your form to email you with every new submission by navigating to the tools menu and selecting “notifications.”

Publish responses

Report what you’ve learned and acknowledge any tips that wind up in your stories. Be sure to verify the information, and then include a link to the callout with each new report.

_This post was adapted from ProPublica’s original post, here._

_To learn more and sign up to Get Involved, click here. Or to pitch/gather story ideas in their new Reddit, click here._

Photo courtesy of Flickr user LarimdaME.