From The Rapidian staff
Each week, a Rapidian staffer will publish a piece related to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site. Click here for past editorials.
Let us know how you look at the editorial mentorship process via the comments. Even if it's not the most positive or perhaps nonexistent, it'll help us tweak things for our [potential] contributors - our most precious resource. As an experiment in digital journalism, it would be right in line with the spirit of the project. After all, we can always get better.
Other articles by the same author
Drew Storey was The Rapidian's first content facilitator and, before that, one of our most ardent volunteers. He contributed at public meetings at Founders when the community was coming together around the possibilities with a hyperlocal, citizen journalism platform. Back then, possible names for The Rapidian were The Red Button (reference to a sculpture in Ah-Nab-Awen Park; too socialist), The 16th Bridge (there are actually 18 bridges across The Grand River; too abstract), The Mittengander (a naïve suggestion by yours truly when I was chiming in from the West Coast).
From there, he took bigger steps. Drew was part of the steering committee. He chaired the editorial committee that established our editorial mentorship process. For a brief stint, he was a Community Media Center board member.
We had the privilege of Drew's company for one month on staff, and he was the fulcrum. As the content facilitator, his position wasn't as public facing, but he was full of bonhomie and wasn't afraid to poke fun at George and me when the office brimmed with sibling tension.
At the heart of The Rapidian is the editorial mentorship process. Weeks before launch, Ron was busy mortaring the site module by module, spackled with George's stellar design; our steering committee was tapping potential launch contributors and forming relationships with local nonprofits, but we had no defined editorial process.
We didn't know what the content would look like, but we agreed enforcing journalistic conventions like AP style would stand in the way. Our contributors needed room to explore how to create community information or even redefine what news looks like.
Synthesizing a thousand concerns, observations and suggestions, Drew steered the editorial committee toward our current editorial mentorship process: Reporters are matched with editorial mentors based on interests. Each reporter submits three pieces of content, vetted by the editorial mentor for clarity. Editorial mentors are there every step of the way to help brainstorm, troubleshoot, edit and make suggestions with the intent of helping reporters put their best foot forward.
"Being able to discuss and brainstorm story ideas that cater to one's strengths and interests is something that I believe makes The Rapidian's potential," said Steve Davison, an engaged Rapidian. "I know that the support and interest that I received from the mentorship process made me feel that it was worthwhile to write these stories."
We have also worked with instructors to export the editorial mentorship process to classrooms.
"I feel like it has helped me greatly increase my writing and editing skills when it comes to profile or article writing," said Becky Spaulding, a student at Grand Rapids Community College. "As a journalism major, I find this extremely helpful and am grateful that something like The Rapidian exists and that I am able to contribute to it! I hope to continue to write for the site long after I am required to for class."
The Rapidian has approximately 390 users poised to contribute articles as new reporters, reporters, editors, nonprofits and admins on the platform. While other lessons learned have led to murmurs of a Rapidian style guide and creating a contributors' resource manual, the editorial mentorship process remains largely unchanged.
One surprise, though: Drew was initially worried that three articles would be a deterrent to contributors. Once the three pieces are completed, new reporters get the privilege of publishing in real time. Drew's editorial mentorship process was such a hit that many new reporters don't want to leave the process.
"My first one was just horrible. It took me back to those days in elementary school where there's a bunch of red ink on my English paper but it came out really good, and then my second article was even better and my third article was even better," said Matt Altena in a Catalyst Radio interview. Matt reports on amateur boxing. "Now I'm getting a pretty good hang of it. Just to see the structure ... it's stuff you learn through repetition and you start to see the details."
Cheers, Drew, for your foresight. It continues to guide us today.
Drew, who was born and raised in GR, had a significant impact on the community. A care page has been started for people to chime in or see how others remember him.
Former citizen journalism coordinator for The Rapidian. Bicycle commuter, experimental cook, aspiring athlete, wannabe programmer, infrequent pianist, language lover, tupperware fanatic and tea junkie. A proud Midtownie but a West Coast girl at heart.
Reports on: Tech, Midtown neighborhood, anything that catches my fancy, &c.