Sourcerer is a new site is being developed by a team of enterprising graduate journalism students at Northwestern to help readers place local news in context. Online information can often be scattered, incomplete, or just plain wrong, and Sourcerer is an attempt to make sense of a topic based on user’s questions and answers (backed up with external links). A visual timeline will also be included to illustrate the intensity of news coverage on a topic over time, which gives a picture of how a story has evolved, along with dips or spikes in coverage.

While the site hasn’t officially launched yet, you can check out screen shots of what the site will look like on this slideshow. Slide #3 highlights the timeline feature. The site will depend on user participation not only for raising and answering questions, but users will also be able to vote on questions, bumping them to the top.

Sourcerer was developed as part of a larger journalism project at Northwestern, the Medill’s Community Media Innovation Project. The project is an exploration of hyperlocal news, and recently published a pretty impressive report on local media, focusing on Evanston, Ill.

You can download the PDF report here. The key findings were very interesting, and seem to mirror a lot of what we’ve been hearing in our program. One of the recommendations/findings of the group was to “make revenue a priority rather than an afterthought,”, something we’ve been hearing more and more. Knowing your readership (another core idea we’ve been learning) was also important, and interestingly, the project also recommends that comments be not so open-ended. The report found that community members preferred a more structured Q and A format when it came to comments.

I’ll be interested to see how it goes, below is a video presentation of Sourcerer.