Friday, April 30, 2010


A collaborative model—The Faster Times readers work with professional journalists on a joint investigation

by Larry Geller

Described as “a pro-am collaboration,” The Faster Times is trying a more intimate collaboration than just web comments—they have started a project to jointly investigate an issue with their readers.

How better to provide a service to readers than to ask them to choose what’s most important to them and then to work on it together? The choice was limited for this first trial, but that should allow the process to be studied and refined.

In the lead on this one is Amy Westervelt, an actual journalist.

Today, readers received the following email:

Introducing Our First Faster Times Reader Investigation - Help Us Discover the Real Story Behind Generic Foods

Last week we asked you to vote on the topic you wanted to investigate together with our reporter. It was a new experiment in journalism, which caught the attention of the Columbia Journalism Review. Now the voting is over and we have a winner: generic and private label foods. Please join us. We want to break new journalistic ground together.

According to that Columbia Journalism Review story (You Pick It, You Report It, 4/23/2010), readers could choose from three proposed topics:

The Faster Times, an online newspaper launched in July 2009 (tagline: “A new type of newspaper for a new type of world”), has introduced a new kind of investigative model for that new world. The initiative allows readers to vote on one of three topics they want to see taken up by a staff reporter, and then help shape the investigation itself.

The reader investigation/collaboration is a first for The Faster Times, which was founded a little less than a year ago to fight the waning tide of original reporting caused by the financial crisis facing American journalism.

The joint project begins here. You can follow it, or become part of it.

If Internet readers tend to read what they already like, then this is already on the right track.

The project appears doable. Here’s a partial description snipped from the link just above:

Most of us eat private label food, buying that cheap Wal-Mart-brand organic milk or Trader Joe’s coffee. Unfortunately, what makes such items inexpensive is exactly what makes them problematic from a consumer protection and social responsibility standpoint: No one but the retail outlet’s buyers really knows where they come from.

Sure, there are other pressing issues in our troubled world, but this is a good start for a collaborative experiment.

[Founder and publisher Sam] Apple’s hopes are that the project will be truly collaborative; dependent on readers’ research and insider expertise, thereby allowing them to continually push the story where they want to see it go — more of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure than some of the Color-By-Numbers type collaborations of the past.

The Faster Times is well worth watching. It’s eclectic by design, but check out their About page. A snip:

The Faster Times is a collective of great journalists who have come together to try something new. As we launch this July, we will have more than a hundred correspondents in over 20 countries. We have someone on the ground in Kenya and someone else reporting from Lebanon. Our arts section will cover not just film and books, but also theater and dance and photography. We will launch with seven writers on books alone. These writers are not “citizen journalists” but among the most accomplished and recognized names in their respective fields.

I ran an article from one of The Faster Times’ journalists, Toufic Haddad, with permission, An analysis of Obama’s Mid-East speech (June 15,2009). It is a great article, and I was impressed also with its immediacy. Haddad was not an AP journalist writing from some safe hotel room. Inside his story he noted that he was watching “Obama’s speech to the background noise of Israeli fighter jets conducting aerial maneuvers over the West Bank.”

Let the experiments proceed.



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