TBD experiments in community engagement: Week 1

It’s the end of our first week on business at TBD and, admittedly, I’m completely exhausted. We all are.

It felt like a good first week for us – we got a lot of reviews, positive and negative, from other media sites and blogs. Despite the bugs and occasional complaints, we did have the opportunity to come out of the gates with a few engagement experiments you might find helpful at your own news orgs.

Open discussion on launch day

We had an open Cover it Live chat on the Community Blog from 9-4 on launch day. TBD Community hosts Lisa Rowan, Jeff Sonderman, Daniel Victor and Nathasha Lim took questions, complaints and bug reports from site visitors in an open and honest fashion. They didn’t just address the positive, they also did what they could to assuage the fears of those missing the former websites for WJLA and News Channel 8, now replaced by TBD.com.

Crowdsourcing for breaking news photos

On Thursday, the Washington, D.C. area woke up to severe thunderstorms, high winds, flooding streets – and a lot of damage. While our one full-time photographer was able to get a lot of art, we knew we couldn’t be everywhere. The call was sounded for photos on Twitter and on the site – and readers responded with submissions on-site and via Twitpic.

We ended up repeating this process later in the day with a reported electrical fire near the District’s business center. I first saw reports and Twitpics of the fire on a random Twitter search for “Fire near: Washington DC”. We quickly reached out on Twitter for permission to use the photos – and we were off to the races. It was great to get such good response out of the gate.

Working with bloggers on breaking news

Around 1:30 pm Tuesday, I looked over one of my series of Twitter searches and found a tweet reporting an alleged hit-and-run by a Metrobus in Arlington, Va. I contacted the guy, Matt, via reply and asked him if he’d talk to our Arlington reporter, Rebecca Cooper. He agreed.

At 2:12, network partner site Unsuck DC Metro, who the original tweet was directed toward, had a post up with the tip.

Another partner site, ARLNow, had a story with photos and quotes from the man involved in the accident at 3:07. TBD had a story with the tipster’s report and ARLNow’s report up before 4 p.m, approximately four hours before The Washington Post or WTOP (and a hat tip to the Post for promoting the great efforts of ARLNow).

Without the tip provided by Twitter and the hustle by the bloggers in our community network, there’s no way we could have had such a story so fast. Who says bloggers aren’t journalists? Not us.

Tapping into the crowd for political coverage

Questions submitted via Twitter hashtag

Questions submitted via Twitter hashtag

On Wednesday, TBD TV’s Newstalk program had the Democratic candidates for D.C. mayor on the program for a debate. In the hours before the 10 a.m. debate, we asked readers to submit their questions for the candidates via hashtag on Twitter. The response was more than we could fit on the program, which was great (see right).

When the debate went live on TV and online, fact-checking reporter Kevin Robillard had a live Cover it Live chat where readers could chime in with comments, ask questions and suggest facts to be checked as the candidates said them on the air.

The debate got a lot of traction on Twitter and on the chat. Kevin had some great material for The Facts Machine, which is a TBD blog dedicated to backing up or refuting questionable facts.

We hope to do a lot more projects like this in the future. Not bad for the third day out.

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