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News Site Does More Than Report, It Offers a Way to Act

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, December 19 2011

Courtesy Boston.com

Readers of Boston.com who feel strongly about the upcoming Supreme Court hearings on the health care law or new federal air pollution regulations can now contact their representatives directly from news articles on political subjects, thanks to a new "Raise Your Voice" tool that Boston.com and some other news organizations are testing.

Once users enter their home address, the tool provides a list of federal and state elected officials readers can contact. They can also reach out to presidential candidates.

Boston.com started testing the service in early December. It's provided by Raise Your Voice, co-founded by Dan Busse and Andrew Swayze. Swayze explained that the motivation for the project began with Busse, an emergency-room doctor who had been listening to the health care debate and felt that the process had become "hijacked." Swayze's background is in early-stage companies in technology, healthcare, and education, and he had worked on Capitol Hill in college.

Swayze said he and Busse also found that their "impulse to contact elected representatives, to take action had often been in response to news stories we had read." While many news pages had options to comment and share, "you couldn't talk to people behind the news," he noted. And he cited Congressional Management Foundation research which noted that seeing "a compelling news feature" was one of the top motivators for Internet users to contact Congress. That's what led them to create the non-partisan article tool through which readers could contact their representatives directly.

Boston.com had already been partnering with e-thePeople for previous elections to offer information on polling places and candidates' stances on issues, and received positive feedback from readers, said Bennie DiNardo, Deputy Managing Editor for multimedia at the Boston Globe.

"The moment you read something is the moment when you might feel most likely that you want to do something," he said. "It should be as easy as possible while the topic is fresh in your minds."

In the past, DiNardo said, this was service newspapers might have provided by listing representatives and their contact information.

"The nice thing from a journalistic side is that it's not taking a side, 'we believe that bullying is bad and we want you all to take this position,' but if you have strong feelings, here are the people that you should contact."

The tool currently runs alongside political stories on Boston.com that come from newswires, by some stories from the Boston Globe that are free to Boston.com, and some of the news sites' blogs, with more to come.

According to Joel Abrams, senior product manager for the Globe, the tool has initially received "a fair amount of usage for its limited amount of exposure," and the response is encouraging for rolling out the tool further on the site.

"People know who their senators are, but it's not necessarily on top of their minds who their state rep is," he said. "One of my colleagues in testing it had sent a message to his state representative regarding the debate over repealing the Happy Hour ban, and he got a reply the next morning."

Swayze said Raise Your Voice has also been in contact with the Des Moines Register and the Concord Monitor, and hopes to roll out more broadly in the next year. The tool will continue to be free, he said. Going forward, Swayze said the idea was to get revenue from advertising that would improve the value of the tool.

"Somebody who is reading about cleaning up the air might also find organizations supporting their aims," he said.

At the moment, Swayze said, he and Busse are working on refining the tool to make it more social and to offer more data to publishers. They are also working on increasing ways that readers can choose to share their messages with friends and to create a public feed on a publisher's website.