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Transparency in reporting: Help me pick my next investigation, then watch it unfold

What story should I be working on next? What public data should I be hunting down? What local issues, shrouded in mystery, should I be investigating?

Today I’m trying something new at The Intelligencer. I’m starting a conversation in this space that would usually be private and between just me and my editor. That conversation? What story should I be working on next? What public data should I be hunting down? What local issues, shrouded in mystery, should I be investigating?

There are two ways to participate in this discussion: in the comments below or, if you’d like to make your suggestions confidentially, using this simple and secure form.

After one week of discussion, I’ll pick one story idea and begin pursuing it. I’ll keep a public diary of my progress in a separate post, including data requests, interviews and research notes. At every point in the process, there will be opportunity for anybody to challenge my lines of inquiry, preliminary conclusions, even the quality and diversity of my sources. Once a week until the story runs I’ll post a progress report and discussion topic, which will be an opportunity to zoom in or re-focus through a back-and-forth in the comments.

There may be information I withhold, such as sources who speak to me on background only, but I will reveal whatever I can in real time. Where there is information I am protecting, I will note the information’s existence (and whatever I can of the nature of that information) in the public diary.

Why do this? I’ve been amazed and inspired by the participation in previous crowdsourcing efforts. When I asked people to share their experiences and story ideas on the underfunded courts in Minnesota, readers who worked in the courts wrote more than 30,000 words in response. When I asked state workers to speak about the effects of shutdown, another flood of testimony. This seems like a logical next step.

There’s another reason for this experiment: We demand unprecedented transparency from our political institutions — and sometimes we even get it. What might transparency in reporting look like? And how might it affect how I do my work and how that work is received? That’s something I hope to find out.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride, beginning with your ideas. Throw them all at me, no matter how developed they are. If it was a snippet of data or a news article that triggered your idea, share that also. The only limitation to the subject matter is that it be Minnesota-specific.

If you don’t have a story idea, just a topic you believe ought to be given some attention, say something about that topic and why it matters to you. And if you see an idea from somebody else that you like but you want to add to it, please do.

If you want to receive weekly updates by email, you can submit your email address here. You’ll receive the first email on Aug. 1. I will not share your email address under any circumstances and will only use it for updates specific to this project.

Update (8/2/11): Readers have suggested more than 50 story ideas or topics since I posted last week. Some very good stuff. If you haven’t suggested a story idea or topic, please do. If you know somebody who might have a good suggestion, please pass this link along.

The first email update went out on Aug. 1. I’m close to a decision and doing due diligence on the ideas that best fit the project. Stay tuned and thank you for your participation so far.