AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Newspapers have been known to go to great lengths to hide their story budgets - that's the all-important list of what's coming up in the next day's paper. One British paper, however, has begun to do the opposite in the last few months. They're making their lists public so readers can weigh in on story decisions. Dan Roberts is the national news editor for the Guardian. He joins us from the offices of the paper in London. Dan, welcome.
DAN ROBERTS: Hi.
CORNISH: So, what on earth possessed you to publish your story list?
ROBERTS: We've been experimenting for a while in trying to get readers to help us report things. And we realize that the only way to really take that to a bigger scale was to tell them what we're already doing, 'cause there's no point in just kind of giving them a blank of sheet and saying, what would you do? You have to kind of engage them in the process as we go along. We got a lot of good feedback, so we decided to keep it going. But actually we want to relaunch probably in the new year. And I think we are actually giving people stories that we haven't written about when we think they can help. So, a good example: we did an investigation into the exploitation of interns. And rather than the normal process of doing the investigation and then opening the piece up for comments on the website and then seeing people's experiences, we flipped it. And we said right in advance we were going to tell people we want to investigate this. Can you give us examples of perhaps how you've been exploited as an unpaid intern. And suggestions poured in. And then we did the report and we checked them out. The advantage of that was that you get a much better story. We had some brilliant examples that really open people's minds to stamp out what the problem was. But also we had an audience that were already there waiting for us to tell them about it. So, it ended up being the best read story of the week.
CORNISH: So, talk more about how this experiment affected the way you made decisions about what to cover.
ROBERTS: We are finding sometimes the editors have a particular sort of shortsightedness about an issue that the readers are much more fired up about. We had a good example: we are covering reforms to the National Health Service. We'd reported it extensively over the summer but when the bill actually reached Parliament we kind of switched off from it. And we got a lot of feedback from readers saying, no, we really want every spit and cough of the parliamentary debate. And so we responded to that. We set up live coverage for the two-day debate and put some reporting resource into it. And they were right. The parliamentary stage was much more important than we had acknowledged. And we got huge traffic on the stories but also a lot of engagement in the commentaries under the stories.
CORNISH: What did this experiment teach you about your new judgment?
ROBERTS: Well, I think we've got to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. I mean, I think our strengths are that as professional journalists we can be dispassionate about things. And the positive side of it is that there's only a few of us. And there's a big world and there's an awful lot of things going on. And actually, it's that wisdom of crowds thing, that actually good ideas bubble up, that you're not going to get through a dozen sitting in a room around a table chewing over that day's news.
CORNISH: Dan Roberts. He's the national news editor for London's Guardian newspaper. Thank you so much.
ROBERTS: Thank you.
CORNISH: This is NPR News.