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Web Doc Sharing Can Streamline Editorial Process
OMNI experiments with online collaborative techniques to improve citizen journalism
Todd Thacker (todd)     Print Article 
Published 2007-02-07 09:47 (KST)   

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One of the toughest parts of our jobs as editors at OhmyNews is rejecting citizen reporters' stories that obviously took a lot of work and thought.

The nature of our system -- a combination of suggesting story ideas and receiving unsolicited ones -- means we are never sure just what kind of news line up we will have on any given day, requiring on occasion some very difficult decisions.

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On the plus side of global citizen journalism, we could have some remarkable story from Zimbabwe that no one in the mainstream press has covered before. On the down side, we could receive in the space of 30 minutes three very similar stories from Nepal.

And with such competition and duplication comes frustration on the editorial side and disappointment on the citizen reporter side.

If OhmyNews International's citizen reporters were employees, we editors could avoid this overlap and plan our coverage. Moreover, a mastery of journalistic techniques would be mandatory. We can expect neither from our citizen reporters.

Since OhmyNews International would like to help our citizen reporters improve their journalism skills -- sensing what is news and conveying the story efficiently and entertainingly -- we spend a good deal of time writing rejection letters explaining what went wrong and where they could improve.

Fortunately, though, there are some relatively new Web services that can help mitigate these editorial problems: online document sharing.

Companies like Google, Zoho and Thinkfree have free online word processors that allow a writer to share a document with others. If you are an OhmyNews citizen reporter, it makes sense to let your editor have a peek at your draft and suggest tweaks to help produce a publishable piece.

It works something like this: During the process of composing your article, you can email a link to your editor allowing him or her to read and edit your work. All changes are recorded in the "revisions" tab at the top of the screen, so you can keep track of what was altered, by whom and when.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to run an experiment with our citizen reporters, inviting anyone to share their story drafts with me. For simplicity's sake, Google Docs seems like an obvious choice. (If you don't have a Google Account, you can get one here.) My Google address is newspaperman at gmail dot com.

Be sure to include in the document's title both your name (byline) and the headline of the story. At the top of the document you can also leave a note for the editor containing any questions, problems or concerns you might have.

Good writing!

For a review of the main online word processor services, read CNET's December 2006 rundown here.

Todd Thacker is senior editor at OhmyNews International.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Todd Thacker

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