While it’s common for newspapers to field reader comments and questions on a regular basis, LNP in Lancaster, Penn. has decided to take it one step further by launching “We the People,” a project that gives the public more control over the stories it covers. LNP currently maintains a single copy and home delivery print circulation of 66,000.
Readers can submit their questions they want to see answered about Lancaster County through a special LNP website (LancasterOnline.com/WeThePeople). A team then selects the best questions and puts them up for a public vote, with the most popular topic serving as a foundation for a story.
“We try to implement polls and voting assets on our website as much as possible, so incorporating that into our story planning seemed like a no-brainer,” said digital editor Dustin Leed. “It gives the audience power to have a say in the stories they want to read about—that’s what it’s all about after all isn’t it? Start with the audience.”
In order to ensure “We the People” ran smoothly, LancasterOnline partnered with Hearken, which provides media organizations with a platform and a series of tools for public-powered journalism projects.
“It seemed to me like they had the implementation process down to a science,” Leed said. “Hearken sent us a ton of awesome material and had feedback for each step along the way.”
Instead of rolling out the project to the entire LNP staff, Leed said the team will consist of a community engagement specialist, a social media editor and two reporters.
Through the first few weeks, the website received 106 questions and 635 votes in its first round of voting.
“I think the feedback has been good. Obviously there are some trolls within the comments section, but that’s something we’re used to. The numbers speak for themselves,” Leed said. “We’ve received so many great questions that we will be using some of them in our daily reporting.”
The topics of questions submitted so far range from inquiries over immigration policies in Lancaster to why so many trees in the downtown area were being chopped down.
The initial plan is to produce a pair of “We the People” powered stories a month. With each story, the team intends to devote one week to question gathering and voting, and another to the actual reporting of the piece.
“Even though we have low cross-over readership in our print product and on our website, we really value cross-promotion,” Leed said. “We’ve been promoting the questions and voting rounds online and in print, and it’s safe to say each story will appear in both products.”