Category Archives: journalism

Community reporting and citizen journalism unpacked

Citizen journalism and community reporting

The Institute of Community Reporters – which I wrote about earlier – has produced its first discussion paper, exploring the different between community reporting and citizen journalism.

I think the paper is very good … not least because it sets out far more cogently than I did some of the issues I nibbled at in More rebranding of citizen media as “journalism. ” Sigh”.  I argued that just because people post videos or use blogs to produce content about their communities doesn’t mean they follow the news-dominated agenda of journalism, which may be good for some campaigning,  but not for community building.

In the paper, Teresa Wilson, Partnership Manager at People’s Voice Media, distinguishes between news, and story.

Story can be the means by which we work out our thoughts and ideas about who we are and how we connect to those around us. It can be an exploration, a search for meaning or an offering up to others. From a community development point of view, story is an extremely useful tool for helping people to locate themselves in their own lives and their communities. And more importantly, it is universal and there are no prerequisites required in order to tell a story.

We all have something to say and stories to tell about our lives and this is our starting point for Community Reporting. From here, we support people through a process of refining communication, developing new skills, thinking more about the audience for their stories and the impact they want those stories to have. Some of the stories that Community Reporters tell might be considered ‘newsworthy’, but the heart of Community Reporting is in individuals telling stories about their own lives rather than reporting on news, an approach that serves to benefit both the individual and the community.

As Simon Safari, Chair of the Tenants’ Association in Botkyrka, Stockholm says, “I believe that we need more thinking to create sustainable communities, and [giving people] the right to describe their own reality is one of them.”

I strongly recommend reading the Community Reporting and Citizen Journalism paper in full, together with the explanation  of the Venn diagram I have linked, above.

Teresa explains the role of the Institute in developing some quality assurance around the role of community reporter, with editorial guidelines, training, and the opportunity to work with other reporters. Teresa concludes that reclaiming the term reporters is important …

… because for us it means family. It’s a network of people joined together by a common set of goals and values, sharing their successes and frustrations and learning from each other in the process. We hope to see the network grow and the model continue to support more of the kind of people who wouldn’t traditionally create content for the web into the wonderful world of content creation, where their stories and views count, and where they feel ultimately more connected to the world around them.

I hope social reporters get honorary membership too.



More rebranding of citizen media as “journalism”. Sigh

The Guardian voluntary sector network has an interesting provocative piece headlined How citizen journalism is setting the local agenda which goes on to say:

Hyper-local news, websites and blogs are inextricably linked to cohesion and engagement within communities.

Adding in a caption:

Many local bloggers and writers may not recognise themselves as citizen journalists, but they are telling their story and connecting local people.

The first point is supported by the Networked Neighbourhoods research by Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris, though not cited in the piece.

Mandeep Hothi, also writing recently for the Guardian, has a nuanced view – as I’m sure do Kevin and Hugh – about the role of social media in communities. Mandeep wrote:

Our experience suggests that social media is not the shortcut to higher participation that we all hoped it might be. On the websites and social networks we helped residents set up, the numbers of people who are engaging in conversation with each other is quite small. It varies amongst sites, but the highest is around 10% of network members.

If you read both studies, they show how complex is the role of new media in the local communication ecosystem, that’s made up of many informal and formal relationships, enhanced or disrupted by the effort of newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, websites, Twitter etc

… which is why I bridled got cross about the Guardian piece’s second point, which implies that local online writers and bloggers should be branded (whether they like it or not) as citizen journalists. Some may like the label, other may feel that “journalist” is not currently a term that engenders a lot of trust among citizens, however unfair that may be to the majority that do an honest job.

The Guardian piece is written by Gavin Sheppard, marketing director at the Media Trust, who are running Newsnet, supported by the Big Lottery Fund as part of People Powered Change. I’ve written lots before about Newsnet and its role in networking civil society, including an early challenge on How helpful is journalism for People Powered Change?

After citing the excellent work of the Preston blog in a campaign, Gavin writes:

The Poynter Street residents, like many communities across the country, may not recognise themselves as citizen journalists, but they are telling their local story, connecting with others and harnessing support for local people. They are reflecting many of the qualities of citizen journalism. This dedication to the local community deserves to be nurtured and supported and can benefit from learning, connecting and sharing with others.

My challenge is on two fronts. First, that while mainstream journalism is essential for democracy, challenging powerful institutions, bravely reporting from wars and disasters … and keeping us amused … the news values of conflict, crisis, celebrity aren’t necessarily helpful to collaboration and community building, which is important in civic life. Thanks to Nick Booth of Podnosh for highlighting this a few years back.

So while it is hugely important that some bloggers, like those in Preston, take on – and sometimes improve on – the reducing role of local papers in running campaigns and holding councils to account, “journalism” is only a part of the community media that we need.

Some bloggers and users of social media in local communities want to call themselves citizen journalists, and hopefully take on the best aspects of journalism in being inquisitive on behalf of others, and “speaking truth to power”. Fine …. but to what code do they operate in the way that they report? And are they just a loud voice in the community … the equivalent of those who can dominate public meetings? Some are hugely ethical, collaborative, supportive of others … some less so. As journalists they don’t necessarily “connect local people”: that’s more of a role for community organisers and builders.

We need a discussion around citizen journalism in parallel with that about mainstream journalism. We know mainstream journalism has to be, in part, about making money for the proprietors, balanced with a societal role. What are the equivalent tensions in citizen journalism?

At the same time, the majority of those using social media in an enormous variety of ways for social impact do not choose to call themselves “journalists”. I explored this wide use of social technology with co-authors Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson in the NESTA-funded publication Social by Social a couple of years ago.

So my second point is that trying to brand citizen media as citizen journalists is unhelpful. If people “may not recognise themselves as citizen journalists” it’s not for the Media Trust to say that they are.

I think that Newsnet – which is funded £1.89 million by those of us who buy lottery tickets – could both play an important role in this discussion, and help amplify the work of those using community media. Adam Perry is indeed blogging about that on Newsnet.

If Newsnet is going to stick to supporting “journalism” then we need some other ways to connect and amplify the use of social media for local social good … as I rambled on about here: The challenge of networking civil society.

Although Newsnet was funded by BIG last year, and “launched”  five weeks ago, it has yet to carry any news: their “single publishing interface” is still promised (see comments). The site is currently simple a set of blogs and forums within the Media Trust site (see discussion).

So yes, let’s applaud the best of citizen journalism, but not put easy branding above some very complex substance.

Disclosure: I worked for Big Lottery Fund last year exploring their role as more than a funder.

Note to self: there’s another potential client gone. That’s the problem with being a social reporter … the critical journalist in me keeps breaking out.

Media Trust launches Newsnet site and network

The Media Trust have launched their site for Newsnet, which aims to be “a UK-wide hub of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers, providing them with the tools and skills to get more from their local news, as well as learning from the experiences of others.

“The aim is to improve the quality and reach of these stories, through increased sharing amongst communities and distribution to mainstream media outlets, including Community Channel’s UK360 magazine show, which will broadcast some of the best community news stories”. read more »

Innovation agency NESTA announces hyperlocal media research and funding

The UK innovation agency NESTA is starting a major exploration of the future of hyperlocal media – covering everything from struggling local papers, and reduced local BBC services, through to new Government-backed local TV, and the blogs, online communities and radio stations run by passionate digital activists.

Some work is underway to map the hyperlocal landscape, undertaken by Damian Radcliffe. That should be pretty comprehensive, because Damian produces excellent updates on what’s happening in the field: you can see his review of 2011 here, and other slides here. read more »

More media power-to, less power-over vanities

A day at the excellent POLIS conference about Media and Power, and participation in a panel on DIY Media Democracy, led me to think about two sorts of power in democracy, politics and community action.
One is power-over: who can make decisions or has influence – and the other is power-to. That’s the ability to understand and take action – where terms like capacity building and empowerment crop up. Communication and media is important in both.
Today’s event was about both sorts of power: citizen media power in the Midde East revolutions, campaigners using digital media, local blog sites challenging councils (Pits ‘n Pots), as well as the more traditional issues of journalists holding politicians to account, and politicians using journalists to further their aims. (According to former Labour spinner Lance Price No 10 could pretty much dictate the headlines to sympathetic journalists in the early happy days of Blair government.)
As someone said, it’s less a matter or a vibrant press and more one of a vibrant and rather vain game between politicians and journalists.
Although on reflection, the conference was perhaps mostly about power over …  more about the Citizens UK and Lord Glasman view of change, than the more collaborative community development approach of Locality, as highlighted here. read more »

How helpful is journalism for People Powered Change? Further thoughts.

What sort of community media and support for knowledge sharing, learning and innovation do we need – both locally and nationally – when the big society policy agenda expects so much more of citizen-led action?

The significance of this issue - which I touched on rather theoretically here – is now given more practical import by the Big Lottery fundingfor the Media Trust’s ambitious £1.89 million programme of news hubs for local communities, which I reported here and here. read more »

Big Lottery funds £1.89 million of citizen journalism. Is that what communities most need?

I can well understand why Gary Copitch is very cross about the Big Lottery grant of £1.89 million to the Media Trust for its three year project “to establish connected news hubs around the UK to support citizen journalism and to help communities and charities get their voices heard.” But it is complicated.

At one level it seems to about be about a big organisation getting funds for work smaller groups have been pioneering for years … and those with London connections picking up opportunities without competition. However, I think it is also about the difficulty funders may face in trying to turn bottom-up innovation into something that scales-up across the country.

Beyond that it is also about what sort of communications is community-friendly, and whether we can hope professional journalists will develop it.

Gary and People’s Voice Media have run an excellent community reporter training programme for some years, and while based in Manchester they work across the UK. They didn’t get a chance to bid. Nor – so far as I can gather – did others who have done so much to promote local blogging, online communities and use of social media to benefit neighbourhoods, towns and villages. The grant was awarded without publicity or competition.

There’s now some 15 years of hard-won experience in the field, and it’s not something that Media Trust have really engaged with in the past, as far as I can see. read more »

The sociable role of social reporters

What are social reporters, and what do they do?

Do you see yourself as one?

A London Net Tuesday event earlier this week gave me confidence that those are questions worth asking, even if the answers are ones we still have to choose for ourselves.

The term socialreporter was one I came up with a few years back, when I got tired to saying I was a sort of old journalist, turned consultant in partnerships and facilitation, who got excited about social technologies some years back.

I haven’t promoted it strongly, because it isn’t meant to be a personal brand or very well-defined, so I’ve been delighted when other think it has some use.

William Wardlaw Rogers thought it interesting enough to make it the theme of this month’s Net Tuesday, so I dug out a Mindmap I started last year, added another, and used that to spark some lively conversation with a group including John Popham, Fiona McElroy, and Mark Barratt. I think we agreed that social reporters should be sociable – as in socially useful. read more »

Social reporters may be network weavers: if you trust them

Nancy White offers reflections on the recent “Journalism that matters” gathering in Seattle, including thoughts on how social reporting relates to mainstream and citizen journalism. Nancy quotes me as suggesting social reporting is “an emerging role, set of skills and philosophy around how to mix journalism, facilitation and social media to help people develop conversations and stories for collaboration” and goes on to say:

I suspect citizen journalism is a form of social reporting. For me the question is about transparency and how one chooses to be a social reporter. Is it as someone trying to objectively cover an event? Editorialize? Synthesize? Focus on particular outputs? Some of these transgress traditional journalist  practices and perhaps even ethics. My conclusion is that social reporting sits on the continuum that includes journalism, but often moves outside of its bounds and becomes more subjective than objective. If that is what is needed, that’s useful. Ethically it suggests we should disclose our intentions and agendas as social reporters!

read more »

Do social reporters need to be accountability journalists too?

After suggesting yesterday that socialreporters might adopt Make Sense, Be Positive and Help Out as guiding principles – or even resolutions – I’m wondering whether to add Investigate if No-one Else Will.

Euan Semple kindly reblogged my diagram, prompting @mark_barratt to tweet “Where’s exposure of cant, lies?”
My initial response was, we can leave that to all the other reporters. But then thanks to @marshallk I read Clay Shirkey’s talk at the Shorenstein Centre. Not new (last September), but a wonderfully
timely tweet. read more »