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Crowdsourcing can reveal stories the public is hungry for, creating an opportunity to build trust

True crowdsourcing — getting beyond data and traditional methods of reporter-centric journalism and enabling people to share their stories — can build trust by surfacing narratives such as ProPublica’s maternal mortality series that would not be likely come to light any other way.

ProPublica engagement reporter Adriana Gallardo was blown away by the response to a questionnaire asking women to describe life-threatening complications in childbirth. They’d expected a few hundred, but they received 2,500 in the first week alone.

All of the women that shared a story with the maternal mortality project, I’m continuously in touch with them about their story, about what they contributed and often coming back to them with questions, more questions to guide our reporting. We don’t just ask and walk away; we’re very intentional about coming back  – letting them know that we are real people behind these reporting projects.

The project seemed like a good fit for crowdsourcing because state tracking was minimal, leaving significant information gaps were there was no data available. There was little information on who was dying, where they were dying and the causes of maternal deaths. They tested a pilot form, and then launched the project in partnership with NPR.

We’re reporters, but we’re also showing the vulnerabilities of how little we know about an issue. We’re creating a space where these folks feel in control of their narrative, but not just in a cheesy way of “sharing the mic.” You can tell when a story [has] been crowdsourced. There’s a human element in it. It’s not just data or editors or reporters talking about an issue.