The New Haven Register launches The Citizens’ Agenda

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When Digital First Media announced a partnership to create Citizens’ Agenda, Angi Carter was excited. Carter, a community engagement editor at the NHR, didn’t want to wait to get a handle on what the local electorate was thinking. In order to find out, the NHR has a soft launch underway with an issues poll using a Google form and plans to augment stories with public forums, chats and debates with questions fielded from the public.

Six staffers formatted the poll, getting it in sync with Newsys and packaged the text with it for online and print presentations on Dec. 21 and Dec. 25. Middletown Press, The Register Citizen and Litchfield County Times also published it. The story was promoted on social media and during a live chat. The paper has launched Senate and House race Facebook pages and a blog. NHR has 147 responses and 38 people willing to participate in public forums.

Carter would encourage other publications to introduce the Citizens’ Agenda partnership and seek input from the voters on what issues are important. She also said to pay attention to social media presence around political coverage.

Google Plus Hangout with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

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On Dec. 22, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder participated in a Google Plus hangout hosted by The Macomb Daily and The Oakland Press in order to inform readers. Topics included specific initiatives, year in review, political climate, national politics and personal information.

Karen Workman, community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, said a reporter and editor used one computer. At The Oakland Press, a third staffer sat off-camera to curate the meeting and three Flipcams were used to capture the meeting. The Oakland Press Online Editor Stephen Frye said the main stress was the bandwidth but there were no issues.

The end result included text stories, a Storify capturing live Tweets and three videos. From The Macomb Daily, Snyder’s dramatic, controversial moves change state’s culture and Macomb Daily has high-tech talk with Gov. Snyder.

For other staffs trying to experiment, Frye said, “You’re live on camera, so you don’t want to be looking down and reading notes. So know your questions and have fun.”

A community editorial board at The Morning Sun

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When The Morning Sun Editor Rick Mills launched a community editorial board, he said he knew there was a “growing knowledge that a strong Opinion Page was just as important to the community as news coverage.” Mills said he was uncomfortable with the idea of every local editorial coming from him, an editor or even the staff.

Mills wrote a column outlining his perspective, the importance of opinions and conflicting viewpoints and asking for community

Screenshot: The Morning Sun "Community Commentary" blog page

members to contribute on a regular basis. He formed an application process and community members submitted an informal introduction, answered some questions and addressed three local issues they felt deserved attention. Fifteen applicants responded. At a meeting of the community board, a Central Michigan University faculty member spoke on the importance of local opinion. The board has ranged from nine to 15 members and there is a monthly rotation schedule, with regular contributors posting weekly and sharing a community blog on the website.

“They have been extremely valuable in terms of ideas for editorials, positions and guidance, but also contribute equally to story-generation. For a small staff, we more than doubled our eyes and ears by having community members looking out, talking to friends and coworkers and bringing back to us what they hear and see and think,” Mills said.

“My main advice would be to try it in some form, get media lab folks involved, teach them, and show them how important a newspaper’s voice and a strong editorial page are,” Mills said. “In many communities there are many sources for news, we need to lead on more than just news and readers like and respond to strong local opinion pages.”

Jim Matthews scandal coverage at The Times Herald

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The arrest of Jim Matthews, brother of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, was and continues to be a major breaking story for the Norristown, Pa. staff. The original scandal took place in December 2010 and continues to unfold, with charges being filed and court documents outlining Matthews’ charge of perjury and false swearing while testifying under oath.

 Jim Brady, Digital First Media editor-in-chief, called this coverage “a nice capital-J journalism win.” The DA’s investigation “was helped in part by the reporting two of our staffers had done and some editorials written along the way,” according to Online Editor John Berry.

 Stan Huskey, editor-in-chief at The Times Herald, said reporters Jenny DeHuff and Keith Phucas won a Philly Press Association award for public service for their reporting and a contribution by Huskey himself with editorials. DeHuff also took first place in Investigative Journalism category for PNA’s Keystone Awards.

One result of the articles and editorials, which focus on the weakness of the state Sunshine and campaign finance laws, was a law with stiffer penalties for violating the Sunshine Law.

Because The Times Herald broke the “breakfastgate” story in 2010, competitors and national outlets, including The New York Times cited that coverage.