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Crowdsourcing Gives a New Edge to The Washington Post

Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
Vahe Arabian

Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

Edited by Vahe Arabian
Vahe Arabian

Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and…Read more

curata

A Six Sigma black belt, Sarah writes regularly on business and project management, marketing and technology. When she's not working with local youth or writing...Read more

Since June 2015, The Washington Post has leveraged a cutting-edge tool that lets it get reporters into places standard press credentials won’t work. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, the Post was even able to bypass Donald Trump’s notorious ban on certain media by sending freelance stringers into rallies and meetings to get first-hand accounts of the events. While most digital publishers don’t have the financial backing of Jeff Bezos, actionable lessons can be learned from the Post’s well-managed news crowdsourcing.

Freelancers fuel your digital publishing reach

The Post’s online system lets approximately 2,500 freelancers pitch ideas, submit work and invoice for payment. Those numbers cover professional translators, publishers, writers and editors, providing the news organization with national coverage over all critical news delivery tasks. The system allowed the Post to ramp up freelancer input over the past 18 months; what was previously a closed media outlet has become extremely open to freelancers, and that’s resulted in an increase in published freelance content and overall reach for the organization.

The system, which is called the Talent Network, is the only reason the news outlet had first-hand accounts of the Trump campaign trail, said political editor Steven Ginsberg. Other news organizations banned from Trump rallies reported off of live television broadcasts; Ginsberg’s team used inside information provided by stringers. When he wanted the inside scoop on a campaign, Ginsberg consulted the database of the Talent Network and hired a freelancer in the right area to show up to the campaign as a member of the public. The freelancer — usually a professional writer or editor — could then be interviewed about the event.

Building your own network of freelancers lets you leverage the same out-of-the-box thinking. At SODP, we’re big proponents of using storytelling and creativity to help your brand stand out, but we also know the well of ideas and words can run dry from time to time. Bringing in freelancers helps you fill those wells while providing access to perspectives, locations, and events you don’t always have the first-hand experience with.

Organization is critical to News CroWDsourcing success

When using freelancers to energize and expand your digital publishing, organization is a key factor in overall success. The Post created an online database that lets editors search the Talent Network by a variety of factors, including location, expertise, interest and previous work. The tool also ensures timely communication with freelancers, as editors are required to respond within two weeks to queries.

At SODP, we often say that building trust with your readers is critical to turning consumers into customers. Trust is also important when building your freelancer network. Before you move to expand your reach for crowdsourcing content, make sure you can manage freelancers via strong communication, timely responses, clear instructions and fast, accurate payment.

Do you agree with the views mentioned above? What have you used to effectively crowdsource content? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at vahe@stateofdigitalpublishing.com.

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