(Note: The Digital News Test Kitchen holds weekly meetings for students involved in digital-media research and projects, and interested faculty and staff, at CU-Boulder’s Journalism & Mass Communication program. We frequently invite digital innovators to address the group and discuss their work. The January 25, 2012, guest was Dan Busse, founder of RaiseYourVoice.us. An audio recording of Busse’s visit is embedded below.)
On the vast majority of news websites, if you read a story that makes you angry, or moves you to want to take action or contribute to a particular cause, the site offers you the reader of news no assistance. Supporting advocacy simply is not something that most traditional news organizations have been comfortable with, historically. But if Dan Busse, founder of Boulder, Colorado-based RaiseYourVoice.us, is successful, web and eventually mobile news consumers will be guided toward taking action after reading the news, whatever their point of view. (Article continues after the audio recording.)
Length: 40 minutes
Say you’ve just read a news report on hydraulic fracking which makes the case that drilling companies’ activities have contaminated neighboring communities’ water supplies. Perhaps you oppose the practice and want to write your congressional representative with your opinion, and contribute to a group that works to halt the industry practice, like the Sierra Club. Or maybe you think that the issue is being overblown by the media, and wish to express that sentiment to your elected representatives.
To share your opinion, the typical news site will allow you to post in the comments thread — and that’s it. But the impact of ranting in a comment is, most often, minimal.But a few news sites are beginning to experiment with a beta version of RaiseYourVoice’s website widget that points readers to their elected representative and public officials, and to relevant advocacy groups. Inserted in a web news story similar to social-media widgets for Facebook, Twitter, et al, clicking on the RaiseYourVoice widget will lead you to write to your public officials, perhaps sign a petition, and to visit websites of groups involved in the issue of the news coverage (e.g., fracking, in our example).
Web users type in their address and postal code within the RaiseYourVoice pop-ups so that the system can identify and point them to their specific elected officials and public officials.
Why should publishers who wish for their news sites to remain impartial and objective promote advocacy among their online readers? Busse explains that for news organizations, which can use RaiseYourVoice for free as long as they use it to promote balanced advocacy choices, the idea is for the widget to lead a reader to express themselves no matter what position they hold on an issue.For example, here’s a story from Boston.com featuring the RaiseYourVoice widget: “White House renews veto threat on defense bill.” Click the RaiseYourVoice widget embedded in the article text, labeled “Contact elected officials,” and you’ll first see a request for your address. Input that, then you’ll see your specific elected officials (plus President Obama), from which you choose who your message should be delivered. The final screen is for your message, including a pop-up menu for you to indicate your “support” or “oppose” the issue that you’ve entered in the Subject: field. RaiseYourVoice sends your message via e-mail.
RaiseYourVoice is in its early stages, so the types of action available are limited. But the potential is there as the system evolves to support more-specific types of action: say, direct contributions to an advocacy group; volunteering for community service; signing up to attend a protest after reading a news story that inspires you to act; etc.
Busse says the system is designed to serve news publishers who do not push a particular point of view. Web users who click on the widget from a news story tell the system what side of the issue being covered they take (support, oppose), and are led to advocacy choices reflecting that. This data, by the way, will allow RaiseYourVoice to aggregate and analyze data on how consumers feel about an issue from across multiple news sites using its widgets, which can be useful to advocacy and political groups that would pay for such information, as well as for journalists covering an issue.
Advocacy organizations and media websites that operate with a point of view and want only to steer online users to advocate on one side of an argument have to pay to use RaiseYourVoice’s system.
Busse says that as he’s made contact with news managers about beta testing the system, he’s gotten mixed reactions. While many publishers are open to the model and he has several newspaper website beta partners, some traditional newspaper editors and publishers outright reject the idea of helping readers advocate, including facilitating writing public officials. Let them go to Google to figure out how to take action if they feel so moved, their argument goes.
I suspect that this is an old news-industry attitude that is dying off.
For more detail about RaiseYourVoice and the philosophy and business model behind it, listen to the audio of Busse’s Test Kitchen presentation and discussion embedded above.