Before implementing a Deputy Program in your newsroom, we highly recommend you reach out to program creator Connor Sheets (click this link for contact information) in order to begin a dialogue about how best to ensure its success.

 

The Deputy Program is an inexpensive, open-source tool that allows you to harness a team of community members to serve as another set of eyes and ears for your newsroom. The program establishes an open channel that allows a trained group of people, known as “Deputies,” to provide you with information about what is going on in their communities. It also serves as a powerful way to build community engagement and drive meaningful conversations with the people your news organization strives to serve.

 

The first step toward implementing a Deputy Program is to recruit people who will be successful Deputies. Your Deputies will be your first line of listeners in their communities, the ones who keep reporters and editors abreast of events, concerns and ideas of which they may not otherwise be aware. So you want to ensure that you are careful and deliberate about the people you select to participate in the program.

 

At AL.com, we found that keeping a list of about 40 active Deputies was ideal, but that number will vary from outlet to outlet depending on the size of your community, the amount of time you can dedicate to the effort, and the number of groups you hope to tap into.

Though it is listed as the first implementation stage, recruitment is an ongoing process that is likely the most integral to the success of any Deputy Program. It is an essential aspect of the earliest stages of the program’s rollout, but it is also an ongoing endeavor that will only drive further benefits as it is continuously pursued.

 

Before dealing with the technical aspects of the Deputy Program, it is crucial that a preliminary list of specific potential deputies be established. Deputies are the on-the-ground folks who stoke the conversations and provide the information that makes this initiative so worthwhile. So it’s important that you pick them wisely.

 

Good Deputies are:

  • Engaged in their communities

  • Passionate about issues and people

  • Not chiefly figureheads, politicians or officials

  • Not overly dedicated to any one cause or group

  • In possession of a cellphone with reliable service and SMS (text messaging) capability

  • Able to communicate information clearly

  • Able to commit a small amount of ongoing time and energy

 

The ideal Deputy is someone who knows the word on the street without being asked to listen for it. They know most everyone in their community – or at least they know people who know most everyone – and they care about what is happening with and to them. They are good communicators. And they are not simply representatives of a specific group or advocates for a single cause.

 

Excellent Deputies embodying these traits can be found in nearly any subset of people. I was even able to recruit great Deputies from Alabama’s incarcerated population and its ranks of undocumented immigrants, despite the fact that both of these communities are notoriously difficult to cover.

 

Here are a few places to find potential Deputies:

  • Your Rolodex

  • The networks of your friends, colleagues and sources

  • Social media

  • Community meetings, social functions and events

  • Word of mouth

 

It can be useful to publish and widely share a traditional online form or callout asking for people to nominate potential deputies. And an email out to your newsroom asking for help can be beneficial as well. Eventually, you will learn to know a Deputy when you meet one.

 

But recruitment does not end once you move on to the other phases of this Deputy Program implementation plan. It’s something that rewards constant or periodic revisiting, and keeping an eye out for potential Deputies as you and your colleagues go about your reporting and personal lives helps to keep the program fresh. It also helps guard against death by attrition, as a significant percentage of seemingly perfect potential Deputies will never participate in the program. Another large fraction will eventually lose interest and stop being reliable contributors.

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Step 1: Recruitment

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