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WaPo, NYT Ask Readers To Help Sift Through Sarah Palin’s 24,000 Emails

The State of Alaska will today release 24,199 of Sarah Palin’s emails from her tenure as governor. The Washington Post and The New York Times are crowdsourcing the task of sifting through that information to find the most noteworthy and interesting content.

Derek Willis wrote on the Times’ Caucus blog that their reporters will be in Alaska’s capitol, Juneau, to begin the process of reviewing the emails, which they will start posting on NYtimes.com today. He also asks this of readers:

We’re asking readers to help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight. Interested users can fill out a simple form to describe the nature of the e-mail, and provide a name and e-mail address so we’ll know who should get the credit. Join us here on Friday afternoon and into the weekend to participate.

The Washington Post originally announced on The Fix blog that they would only allow 100 readers to participate, but this morning announced in an update that, based on reader response, they will now allow anyone to comment and annotate the emails. Their process will work as follows:

Please include page numbers and, where possible, a direct excerpt. We’ll share your comments with our reporters and may use facts or related material you suggest to annotate the documents displayed on The Post site. We may contact you for further details, by way of your registered e-mail with the Post, unless you specify otherwise in the comments.

This marks one of the largest crowdsourcing projects that I can recall for the two national newspapers. It goes above merely writing a Facebook update or Tweeting a question to seek response. The Times and The Post are trusting their readers with original, first-hand source material, which they are making public as soon as they receive it. It’s a big step for the newspapers, and one that I applaud.

As 10,000 Words contributor Elana Zak noted on Twitter, there will be some kind of byline associated with the efforts put forth by the audience — Willis asked interested participants to “provide a name and e-mail address so we’ll know who should get the credit.” The process in general for both newspapers seems to be thrown together at the last-minute, so we’ll see how organized of an effort it turns out to be.

Now, what I’d like to see as the next truly forward-thinking step: WaPo and NYT should join forces and resources so that all readers can have a common space for annotating emails (without duplication). But that’s probably wishful thinking.

Image courtesy of David Shankbone on Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution License.

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