How to Create a Volunteer Journalism Site

In 13 (or so) Easy Steps

(This advice from Chi-Town Daily News Editor Geoff Dougherty in an article he wrote for Poynter.)

1. Have “an annual budget of less than $200,000 and an office full of thrift-store desks.”

2. Have two editors and a volunteer coordinator.

3. Create a community calendar of events that you might want volunteers to cover.

4. Create some basic journalism training and post it on your site.

5. Don’t expect to recruit a lot of volunteers by “hosting sign-up tables at community events, networking with other volunteer groups and meeting with neighborhood churches and chambers of commerce.”

6. Post weekly notices on Craigslist bulletin boards. Reached out to local bloggers and start networking through Facebook and MySpace.

7. Host free monthly journalism skills workshops and post information about them on and

8. (Consider having new volunteers attend a two-hour orientation)

9. Use Highrise to help editors track volunteers — “who was looking for a story, who was supposed to be filing this week, and who needed a phone call to make sure they were still on board. …collect contact details on our volunteers in one location, assign the volunteer to an editor, track stories to completion and send automated reminders when deadlines are missed.”

10. When a prospective volunteer contacts the volunteer coordinator:

a. schedule a meeting to explain how the program works

b. set the volunteer up with a username on your content management system

c. finds out what she’s interested in covering

e. assign her to a specific editor

f. be sure to put her info in a database, especially her neighborhood location so you can help give her stories in her area.

g. Volunteer coordinator creates a task in Highrise database, asking the assigned editor to make a follow-up phone call to the prospective volunteer.

11. Editor follows up with a phone call or e-mail suggesting a couple of story possibilities. Best stories to start with are meeting stories.

12. Editor uses Highrise to track progress of story and follow up with reporter as deadlines approach.

13. If the writer does not respond to two or three contact attempts, take the story away and put the writer on probation until you can figure out if she’s really interested in working with you.

(Two years after launching and a year after winning $340K in the Knight News Challenge, Chi-Town Daily News has 36 volunteers in a city of 2.86 million people. The site’s goal is to have 75 volunteers by March 2009.)

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