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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 02:38 pm

Citizen can

The SJ-R invites readers to contribute for cash

Maybe it’s the time of year, but the State Journal-Register has really gotten into the community spirit lately. In September, Springfield’s daily newspaper announced it was inviting a couple of regular Joe Horseshoes from the community to serve half-year stints on its editorial board. Just like other journalists on the board, they’ll be allowed to grill politicos and help shape the paper’s editorials.

“With the addition of community members it’s our hope that the process becomes a richer, fuller experience, not only for those who are selected to be on the board, but for the community as a whole,” SJ-R executive editor Jon Broadbooks wrote on his blog on Sept. 21.

Later the paper announced a partnership with Andover, Mass.-based Internet firm Helium “to promote citizen engagement, enable community-based reporting, and facilitate debate of local and national issues,” according to a Helium news release. The SJ-R will invite readers and Helium’s 150,000 freelancers to write articles on local topics and ask citizens to debate a new topic daily, which they began during the recent vice-presidential debate.

Illinois’ oldest daily didn’t shut its community chest there. Over the weekend, the SJ-R started offering cash to readers for writing news stories and editorials on specific topics. Broadbooks didn’t respond to an interview request by press time. But here’s how it works, more or less: a publisher tosses out a story idea and Helium’s freelancers get a day or two to write an article.

If the contribution is accepted for publication, writers are paid about six cents a word. The SJ-R is the first daily newspaper in the nation to team up with Helium, but spokeswoman Meagan Ellis says there are others in the pipeline.

Brian Steffens, executive director of the Columbia, Mo.-based National Newspaper Association says the use of the “citizen correspondents” isn’t new. Community journalists serve as a sort of “early warning system,” alerting news organizations of the stories that they should be covering, he adds.

“You can’t be everywhere at once. There’s nothing wrong with more ears,” Steffens says. “It may not improve the quality but it may improve the reach — and expanding that reach might be valuable.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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