“There’s a different energy behind a question that comes from an authentic place of wonder,” says Jennifer Brandel, the producer behind Localore project Curious City.She hopes to harness that energy to reinvent the editorial process for news, through an innovative question and answer platform that “shares the power of the press with the everyman.”
Launching in early June, Brandel explains, Curious City will provide an American Idol-like experience that will allow WBEZ’s audience to submit, vote, and comment on questions central to life in Chicago. Curious City will explore questions such as “How does the Midwest stay Midwest-y?” and “Are there actually tunnels that Al Capone used underneath Chicago?”
The Curious City team is working with Localore technical partner Zeega to build a customized interface for the project. In the meantime, however, they have begun using existing social media platforms to solicit participation. Where can you find it? Curious City currently has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and the Curious City team is posting questions recorded at events like the 2012 Global Activism Expo on Sound Cloud.
Questions with the most votes or interactions will become the catalyst for multimedia stories in which the questioner is central to finding the answer. According to Brandel, a team will emerge around each selected question—the reporter, editor, and questioner will come up with a plan for how to tell the story. They’ll also take suggestions on sources or leads for potential answers from the audience.
No Small Visions
This process will make it possible for stories to take on a life of their own. Brandel describes them as “living beings that keep evolving after the story is assigned.” Her vision for the project’s impact is grand: She sees it as the starting point for a new era of community-driven, participatory media.
According to Brandel, Curious City will help WBEZ build a stronger digital strategy, one that compliments their broadcast work. “We’re hoping through this project we can get more people onto our website,” Brandel says. She wants to increase connections between the community members’ questions and the vast archive of content WBEZ has made available online.
Curious City may also be a powerful tool for increasing media literacy. “As audience members, we’re kind of limited by getting a story through only a couple of lenses—the reporter and editor,” she says. “I want to help a growing set of people know how their news is produced.”
“Maybe media will follow the same path that food production has,” Brandel suggests. The project has the potential to help consumers realize that “the quality of information you feed your head is as important as the quality of food you put in your body,” as well as to “teach us how to make the production process more sustainable, and help create more quality products in the digital age.”
Thanks to AIR Guest Blogger Erin Polgreen for this report. Find her on Twitter: @ErinPolgreen.