Readers love ‘Tip List’

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The Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star has run a weekly column for years called Tip List, which highlights reader submissions of “what’s wrong with Merced.”
In August the small daily added an interactive map component to its website in a matter of hours without any programmers on staff — and at no cost. “It’s our role as a newspaper to bring stuff like this to people’s attention,” said Joe Kieta, editor of the 20,000-circulation daily. “Public embarrassment is a very powerful motivator. Sometimes things get fixed very quickly.”
Each weekly Tip List column summarizes what is wrong, what’s being done, and who is responsible, complete with relevant phone numbers.
The new interactive map allows readers to pinpoint local trouble spots — potholes, graffiti, and other city blemishes — by adding markers to a Google map of Merced. Readers can add comments and photos to the marked location, and can leave a name and phone number if they want to be a source for future Tip List columns.
The website Platial.com allows users to create and place markers on a Google Map hosted on its website but displayed on the user’s website. Platial.com handles the technical side of things. The Sun-Star simply created an account at Platial, submitted a few pinpoint locations, and copied the resultant HTML code into the appropriate Web page at mercedsunstar.com.The whole process from concept to launch — about an hour. The online map gives the Sun-Star a new way to generate Tip List ideas from readers without the follow-up required with phone calls and emails. And readers can add to the map whenever they want because it is always online. “Readers love it unless they are the target,” said Kieta, recalling a local car dealer upset that a deteriorating building he owned was spotlighted.
The Sun-Star keeps the Tip List from getting too personal. Private property is rarely spotlighted, so neighbors can’t use the feature as a platform to complain about neighbors. But businesses get examined on why they haven’t renovated old buildings. The Tip List has even focused on the newspaper itself when a Sun-Star rack was found in a local irrigation canal. “I’ve lost track of the number of messes that have been cleaned up as a result of the Tip List,” said Kieta. “The people in the crosshairs of the Tip List aren’t happy with it, but the community loves it,” said Kieta. “Years and years of complaining gets them nowhere. But one mention in the Tip List and their problem often gets fixed.”
Contact: Joe Kieta, kieta@mercedsun-star.com.

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