How Medium is involving readers in its ‘Ghost Boat’ investigation

The whereabouts of a boat that disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea remain unknown nearly a year after the vessel set sail from Libya to Europe.

The boat was carrying 243 refugees, most of whom were fleeing from Eritrea. Hoping to involve readers in the investigation of what happened, Medium has created a new series titled “Ghost Beat,” which launched this week.

Medium, an online publishing platform that has gained widespread attention over the past two years, will run weekly stories about the case over the next couple of months. (You can read the first one here.) The stories will be accompanied by running commentary of evidence, according to a post introducing the series. Medium’s Bobbie Johnson writes:

“Over the next two months, we’re telling the story of the refugees who went missing — and chasing down the different theories to find out what happened to them. We have a team of journalists and investigators working across the region.

“But we believe that readers have a critical role to play too.

“The more people who can investigate every lead, the more likely we are to find an answer. So as well as investigating the Ghost Boat ourselves, we’re opening a trove of data as we go and giving you the tools to join in.”

Johnson goes on to describe the ways that readers can take part — by building a timelinecreating a log of boat incidents in the Mediterranean“hunting” the human traffickers; and looking for expertise.

Johnson said he closely followed news about the boat’s disappearance and couldn’t help but wonder: “How people … really understand what’s going on and make a tangible difference?”

The Medium series helps answer this question and is admirable for a number of reasons:

  • It’s revisiting an important news event, rather than letting it be forgotten or overtaken by more “timely” news
  • It’s involving readers in a way that makes them feel like they might actually be able to make a difference
  • It’s giving readers the tools and encouragement they need to be involved. In giving them these tools, Medium isn’t saying, “this is the action you need to take.” Instead, the site is presenting readers with options so that they can decide for themselves how they want to be involved and which actions they want to take.

“Ghost Boat” is a good example of how media can strengthen its reporting and storytelling by involving readers on a deeper level than merely asking them to “like” a story on Facebook, or share their comments on a story. Other news organizations — including The Christian Science Monitor and ProPublica — have also been experimenting with ways to involve readers on a deeper level.

In a Skoll World Forum story earlier this year, ivoh trustee Michael Skoler explained the importance of such initiatives:

“In a world where news and information now streams past everyone in an endless torrent, journalism excels when we help people to stop the stream, even for a moment, to consider how they might use our information in their lives. And when the only option we give them is a “like” or “share” button at the end of a story, we fail them.

“If what we report is not important or relevant enough to make people pause and consider action — and if we don’t use our investigative skills to help them find meaningful actions — then all we are doing is adding to the relentless stream of information. Worse yet, we may be sending the message that little can, or should, be done.”

We’re looking forward to seeing what comes of the Medium project.


Related: How The Christian Science Monitor is helping readers bridge the gap between content & action

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