We’re now getting to the nuts and bolts behind the Deputy Program. This portion of the training is not exhaustive, and serves merely as a basic overview of what GroundSource is, what its role is within the Deputy Program, and what you need to do to set it up and prepare Deputies to use it.


First, a note about pricing. GroundSource offers a free plan, called “Bonsai” (a breakdown of prices for various subscription levels is available at this link.) The Bonsai level allows you to “send and receive 250 messages, or about 30 conversations, every month.” This plan is a great starting point, as your newsroom would be very lucky to send and receive 250 messages in the initial months while you are getting the program up and running. It also allows you to implement a Deputy Program without spending a dime.


If your engagement grows beyond that level, a subscription fee of just $20 per month gets you GroundSource’s “Terrarium” plan, which allows you to send and receive 1,000 messages, a number that should easily cover all the needs of most Deputy Programs. There are more robust options at higher price points should you eventually require them, but most newsrooms should be able to run a robust Deputy Program either for free or for a $20 monthly fee. It’s quite the bargain, considering all the benefits.


GroundSource is a powerful, multifaceted, ever-evolving tool, aimed at connecting community members with newsrooms and other organizations via text message “trees” –predetermined, automated SMS-based exchanges that allow Deputies to provide needed details and context while allowing you to dictate the flow of the exchange. If you ask a question like “what impact is the recent ICE crackdown having on your community,” a text tree allows you to automatically follow up with respondents to that initial inquiry by asking further questions, such as “can you please provide us with names of impacted people or organizations that we should contact?”


GroundSource is separate from the Deputy Program, but it is essential to its operation. It has its own training ecosystem to help you become fully acquainted with its nuances and capabilities, from categorizing human sources to building text trees. You can start down the path of learning everything there is to know about GroundSource and how it works by clicking this link. This brief Deputy Program training will simply provide you with the basic knowledge needed to get the ball rolling.


GroundSource functions as a digital pipeline between initiated cellphone owners – i.e. Deputies – and the publications that utilize it. Within the Deputy Program construct, newsrooms are provided a direct, immediate line of communication with Deputies, and vice versa. Once you sign up for the service and log into your new account, you will be confronted with an intimidating empty interface waiting to be filled with text trees of your devising. These can seem complicated, but they are little more than sets of basic prompts, questions and pathways that allow for efficient, meaningful communication between parties.


After signing up for GroundSource, the next step is to create a “welcome” tree to automatically send a greeting to anyone who texts the phone number you are assigned when you sign up for the service. This welcome message should inform people that they have made initial contact with your newsroom’s Deputy Program and ask them to confirm that they want to be Deputies. The next step is to ask them for basic demographic information, i.e. their name, email address, zip code and any other details you would like to have in the system to help you categorize, organize and define them. For instance, you could ask what issues they are interested in or what organizations they are members of. All of this information is automatically uploaded into the GroundSource system as they provide it, where it is easily viewable and sortable by you or anyone else who you’ve selected to help run your Deputy Program.


Once you have a critical mass of Deputies signed up for the program via this initial text tree, the next step is to begin communication with them. You can do a callout, in which you ask a question or request that all the Deputies submit one story idea or to tell you how a certain issue impacts their community. This initial contact helps to demonstrate exactly how they will interact with the program, and gives you a baseline idea of who is most engaged with it at its outset. You will want to follow up with separate communications tailored to folks who did or did not respond to the initial callout.


At this point, you have already done the basic work that will become the implementation and maintenance of the Deputy Program. You have a base of human sources who have expressed interest in the initiative and chosen to take the initial step of being signed up via GroundSource. You have reached out to them and gauged early interest. And you may even already have a few news nuggets or story ideas to follow up on.


Step 3: Development