'Two Cents' Worth a Lot

The San Francisco Chronicle has discovered a great way to use technology to improve reporting. The newspaper has a built a database, called Two Cents, that lists more than 1,600 residents of the nine Bay Area counties served by the Chronicle, including each person’s address, telephone number, photo, e-mail address, birthday, occupation, interests, hobbies and other facts. Chronicle reporters and editors used Two Cents to find sources for stories, reader reaction to news events and “man-on-the-street” opinions on everything from organ transplants to the Pledge of Allegiance. “You can search by anything,” said Heidi Swillinger, who created the database, “[whether] you want to talk to 20-year-olds, people who live in a certain town, or people named John.” How did the newspaper build this invaluable database? The newspaper recruits Two Cents sources using its Web site,

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