A few weeks ago I did a Web chat on whether the government should bail out the Detroit auto business. That 35-minute exercise continues to pay dividends to our listeners on the air. NPR has one of the smartest audiences in America. But, until now, I didn't appreciate what an extraordinary resource they are for reporters like me.
Not only was the chat interesting, but we got over 100 comments. Many of the comments were from people who either had connections to the auto business or actually worked in the industry. (Nothing like talking to people who actually know what you're trying to report on.) :-) So after we did the Web chat, I began contacting some of the people who had commented.
Within a day, I was able to put together a radio story entirely based on sources from the Web chat. These were terrific sources with lots of knowledge whom I would have never been able to find by old reporting methods, like calling around. I also read some of the comments on All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation.
Now, I'm moving on to a story about car dealerships. One of the people who commented on the Web chat runs an advertising company whose clients include hundreds of dealerships. He's putting me in touch with some of his clients, some of whom, I imagine, will also soon be on the air.
In short, the Web chat has been a great way to find new sources and also get in touch with the people who ultimately support our work: the listeners.