Here is an interesting use of Web 2.0 … an ad-hoc data entry community, tasked with maintaining an accurate list of media contacts.
Media Volunteer is a project to create and maintain a high quality media contact database. Although Green Media Toolshed — a progressive organization committed to building and strengthening the communications infrastructure for the environmental movement — is the caretaker for this info, it will be made available to a myriad of organizations, from Greenpeace to the Red Cross.
This is a way to take the momentum of the recent election cycle and put it to new use, in small, easy-to-digest actions. Contributing to Media Volunteers is more personal than a MoveOn.org click-to-fax (what I term passive activism) and likely more relevant than calling some undecided voter in a faraway state. An email from Marty Kearns described the benefit to progressives as:
We want to move new messages on security, peace, environment, health and justice. We need to retool an under resourced movement for an entirely different political atmosphere. We need to help progressive messengers influence the public debate.
The freshly elected officials and their staffs are going to be looking for new ideas. They are also going to be pushing a different set of issues into the forefront of the American debate. We need to make sure that public interest groups can jump and be a voice in that media discussion.
These kinds of databases are plentiful, of course, but not without issues. First of all, the cost to access such data is extremely expensive, much more than most non-profit organizations can budget. Also, the database is typically confirmed no more than twice a year, making the information out of date before a group can purchase a copy. The cost for a business to maintain accurate information and provide it to organization is mostly tied up in the salaries of staffers paid to do the work. An army of volunteers, on the other hand, can do the work of 75 full-time employees.
Tasks can be completed anonymously or after registering with the site. The big advantage to registration is that the data is pre-sorted to bring up records in your geographic area. The ways you can contribute are:
- Call a Reporter — Ask a local reporter a few simple questions to confirm or update contact information.
- Confirm Outlet Information — Media outlets change. They move offices, change phone numbers, get bought by another company, or go completely out of business. A single phone call can correct the basic data in the system.
- Find Websites for Outlets — Googling for the homepage of a media outlet is a simple way to help flesh out missing data.
This project has the same community feel as a wiki, albeit with a distinctive ideological and proprietary bent. Part of me wishes this were more inclusive in that sense. At least allow community members to dictate which organizations can access the data (perhaps weighting votes based on contributions). Marty Seigel always tells us ideas are cheap; it’s the implementation that makes money. The same is true of public information. As I’m discovering with my RootsCamp event, sending a press release isn’t the same as having someone read it and act upon it. So why not put more people to the task of updating this database by making the data freely accessible?