The Washington Times’ news gathering is about to become a whole lot bigger as the newspaper launches one full print page per day of news stories reported and written by average citizens in local communities.
The citizen journalism project, set to debut Monday, is a new take on a traditional idea.
Community-driven news has been a long mainstay in American newspapers. The Times’ version ramps up the intensity and the outreach, focusing on six communities within the larger Washington area: academia on Monday, the Maryland and Virginia suburbs on Tuesday, the District on Wednesday, local military bases on Thursday, faith communities on Friday and the charitable and the public service community on Sunday.
The citizen journalists’ work will be showcased in the A-section as an additional page of Metro coverage and will provide a natural complement to the work of the newspaper’s reporters and editors.
“We know there are many issues and communities we have not been able to fully cover within the confines of a newsroom budget, and we are excited to empower citizens within those communities to provide us news that will interest all our readers, ” Executive Editor John Solomon said.
“While we are expanding our reach through this project, we will not be diminishing our editorial quality. Citizen stories must meet the same rigorous standards for accuracy, precision, fairness, balance and ethics as those written by our newsroom staff,” Mr. Solomon said.
Each citizen journalist is provided a set of rules for their reporting and newswriting, as well as copies of The Times’ policies governing ethics, anonymous sources and other journalistic standards.
While the project calls for some first-rate news wranglers, The Times also is tapping into some of its own editorial talent known for its savvy - and heart.
Former Editorial Page Editor Deborah Simmons, a veteran newswoman with close ties to the local community, is supervising the coverage for the District, the suburbs, academia, faith and the charitable communities. Longtime Times columnist Adrienne Washington, a staple on local TV and radio, also will be a part of the outreach and the editing.
“Deb and Adrienne are pillars within the Washington community and their journalistic prowess, community ties and passion for news are perfectly suited for this project,” Mr. Solomon said.
“This is a groundbreaking project, and I’m excited to be on the launching pad. Readers know our bylines. Now we’re flipping the script,” said Ms. Simmons.
Grace Vuoto, editor of The Times’ new Web property BaseNews.com, will edit the Thursday citizen journalism page on military base news.
“Grace is leading the way in providing citizen reports from every military base in the world through BaseNews.com, and the Thursday page is an ideal extension,” Mr. Solomon said.
The idea of community journalism in a print format is actually a new take on an old tradition, said Al Tomkins, a media analyst with the Poynter Institute.
“Rural and county newspapers, community weeklies - they always had space devoted to the community news, written by someone local. That kind of coverage was and still is incredibly popular,” Mr. Tomkins said. “It takes its inspiration from a simpler time. But it remains an effective way to give a voice to the voiceless.”
The new citizen journalism page is one of several changes launched in the past few weeks in The Times’ print edition. They include:
• A new daily social gossip column, “Green & Glover Undercover,” featuring Times fashion writer Stephanie Green and social videographer Liz Glover, who recently joined The Times after a stint as a society reporter for Wonkette.com.
• A revamped Culture News page anchored by “Hot Button,” a daily column penned by Amanda Carpenter, who recently joined The Times from Townhall.com, where she covered the culture wars, ideology and the blogosphere. She is also a frequent contributor to Fox News.
• The return of daily TV listings in the Plugged In section.
• A weekly Food page with recipes and stories highlighting inventive dining and cooking that appears Wednesdays in Plugged In’s Living section.