Educating the audience and engaging it in journalistic investigations are essential in the work of the non-profit investigative newsroom Correct!v. Simon Jockers, the representative of the project’s team, presented the main features of its crowdsourcing strategy.

Correct!v is a non-profit project which is specialized on the investigative journalism with the use of citizen engagement. Crowdsourcing in this case is not only about asking the audience about something, but also about educating it.

Educational work at Correct!v is organized from various prospectives, such as informing citizens about the freedom of information rights in Germany and other legislation regarding this issue. Educational program includes video explainers, workshops, meet-ups and an e-book on information laws in Germany. Providing access to media tools and techniques is an effective way of teaching people about journalism, its role in society and fostering awareness.

Along with educating the audience, the team of Correct!v is working on bigger investigative projects.

As Simon Jockers pointed out, before starting their current investigation, Correct!v team did a research regarding the use of crowdsourcing by journalists. The research showed, that journalistic crowdsourcing has been around for about 10 years now.

The important step in researching crowdsourcing is establishing its meaning. According to Simon Jockers, the best explanation of crowdsourcing was given by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Crowdsourcing is defined as “the act of inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting assignment”.

The most important thing as Simon Jockers noted, is that crowdsourcing is a targeted open call, which involves asking your audience for something.

It is also necessary to know, what is NOT crowdsourcing, as Simon Jockers pointed out. Projects like Wikipedia are not crowdsourcing, for instance. Such projects are based on a user generated content that was not actually called for.

“Crowdsourcing always starts with a call to action” – said Simon Jockers.

He also referred to Tow center while describing different types of call to action.

The first one is voting. That implies asking your audience for opinion on something. As Jockers pointed out, that type of call to action is not particularly helpful for investigative reporting, but still can be used on different stages of investigative process. For example, Correct!v used voting to ask the audience which topic to investigate.

Witnessing: something that is sometimes called “citizen reporting”. Simon Jockers provided his audience with the example of the project “Cicada tracker”. Every 17 years cicadas appear in the eastern part of the United States and this crowdsourcing project helps to track insects and study this phenomenon.

Asking people for personal experience. Using this tool of crowdsourcing journalists can uncover stories and identify new aspects of the projects they are working on.

Specialized expertise. That is a way of trying to find experts who can help with investigation, because there is always someone who knows the subject better than a journalist.

Simon Jockers also presented the controversial statement to the audience: “everybody can be a journalist“. The truth behind this statement is that not anybody can do all the work in journalism and certainly not everybody can be a good journalist.

The main project of Correct!v running at the moment is investigation of local german banking system – Sparkassen. There are 409 individual local banks in Germany, 15.000 branches and 250.000 employees working in the system. Sparkassen has 50.000.000 customers.

The key features of engaging citizens in this project through the Internet are:

* easy data input;

* easy source document upload;

* admin interface for fact-checking;

* public interface for browsing crowd-sourced data;

* educational resources: videos and tutorials;

* community of citizen journalists.

Simplicity is very important in this case. The web application of this investigation is “not super complex”. That is basically a website, where one can publish data. System of logging in trough Twitter works to secure commitment of citizens and also implies transparency of who the people engaging in the project are.

“If you build a crowdsourcing campaign, what happens next?”

As Simon Jockers noted, “just because you build something, doesn’t mean, that people will come”.

What should journalist do to attract the audience and foster its engagement in the investigation?

First of all, journalists need to “investigate in the open”. “If you can’t tell people about it, you can’t do crowdsourcing”, said Jockers.

Then “publish about the topic”, because people need to know about the project.

Also communication through social media is essential as much as cooperation with traditional media outlets. In case of Correct!v the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung became its partner in the investigation of local banking system.

After 6 months of investigation the team of Correct!v also learned about the mistakes in their crowdsourcing work. The first one is lack of focus. It is important not to do many things at the same time, according to Jockers.

Also “community building is really hard and it’s a lot of work”. As it turned out, it is not that easy to get people interested in the topic or rather it is difficult to keep them interested. The system of local banks in Germany is quite a boring topic for the public. And Correct!v “didn’t exactly succeed in making it fun”. Also the attempt to arrange a forum for discussing failed and the team is still working on this idea.

Verification of the data appears to be a major time-consuming factor, Jockers points out, that there was time, when 2 interns were just verifying the data all the time.

Another difficulty of crowdsourcing in case of this project is that there are a lot of people who try to push other opinions, especially PR departments of all the investigated banks.

The idea of this investigation according to Simon Jockers was to force more transparency in the banking system, but there was no intention of destroying the public bank system in Germany.

The next project for Correct!v, as Simon Jockers believes, will be also within the country and its focus will probably be infrastructure.

Victoria Kolesnichenko