Q&A with OpenFile on community-powered election news

OpenFile and Canada.com have have teamed up to produce community-driven election coverage. Readers at Canada.com can now click on the “your idea” icon to visit OpenFile and suggest election stories they feel deserve more attention from media.

OpenFile then does its thing: the collaborative news site is designed to take in reader suggestions, and then assign journalists to write stories on suggestions that are deemed relevent. We talked with OpenFile editor-in-chief Kathy Vey and chief operating officer Sonia Chai about the project, how it will benefit the site — and what election stories Canadians want covered.

J-Source: How will the new partnership benefit OpenFile?

Sonia Chai: First and foremost we think of it as benefiting our current readers and exposing other Canadians to a new way of thinking about how news can be generated and reported.  With our partner, Canada.com, it allows OpenFile to extend our participatory hand beyond the communities where we currently have sites — Vancouver, Calgary, Waterloo Region, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

J-Source: What types of suggestions have you been receiving?  Do you think Canadians feel there is a lack of coverage on certain issues?

Kathy Vey: We’ve had a wide variety of suggestions on topics from G8 spending to climate change, from Afghan detainees to the seal hunt, from disability rights to the shortage of medical isotopes. The source of reader submissions has been pretty evenly split — so far about half have come from Canada.com and half from our seven OpenFile city sites. What it tells us is that Canadians feel that plenty of issues are being ignored in this election campaign and that they’d welcome the opportunity to hear more in-depth discussion about their concerns, not just regurgitation of talking points and repetition of whatever is in the headlines.

J-Source: What’s your end-goal with this project?

SC: To learn and refine how OpenFile can continue to bring its unique news-gathering process to other communities around the country.  It has been interesting to see voices coming from across  Canada, from Whitehorse [in the Yukon] to small towns in Ontario. This partnership might even help OpenFile determine where it should launch next, based on demand.

J-Source: How many suggestions would you like to see come in?

SC: As many as possible!

J-Source: OK, so how many stories will you tackle?

SC: That will depend on how many of our users’ suggestions are stories that can realistically be reported or questions that can be answered. Partnering with Canada.com allows us to extend our reporting reach and allows users to suggest stories that will be read by a wider audience. We hope that once other Canadians realize that some media outlets are willing to engage with them in a meaningful way that the momentum will build.