Category Archives: journalism

Newspapers are gone. We still need journalists

In an essay Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable Clay Shirky brilliantly details the point I was discussing the other day with Craig McGinty: “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism”. Jeff Javis has been saying for some time that many newspapers are gone, so not surprisingly he endorses Clay’s piece. I love it when local and global conversations join up. Newspapers never did that – unless you were a journalist. Now we can all join in.

Social media changes the local landscape

Two conversations in Manchester this week deepened my understanding of the changes social media is bringing to communication at local level – and the potential for new collaborations between journalists and community activists.
The first chat was with Craig McGinty, who has worked in print and online newspapers, and now helps a wide range of people use free or low-cost online tools. These include a groups of landscape designers and gardeners who have used free Ning social networking software to set up a non-organisation for collective marketing. More on that later.
After an hour or so’s chat about the fast-changing digital landscape, I invited Graig to give me his thoughts on how social media is impacting on newspapers, communities and organisations.
He focussed first on a changing role for local journalists, as papers go out of business in a world where advertising moves online, and people won’t pay for news and information that they can find in other ways.
He envisages freelances setting up advertising-supported blogs to develop news and other services for local residents and businesses, happy to take and share content feeds via RSS (explanation here). These feeds could come – in part – from blogs set up by community activists on the hyperlocal model being promoted by Will Perrin.
They would operate as light-weight content developers and aggregators in a distributed communications environment – a very different model from the centralised online systems attempted by some local papers with mixed success.
Craig’s view is that the loss of local papers may be no great loss in many instances – provided journalists and local enthusiasts can collaborate to fill the gap. The best thing government could do would be to make available the great deal of data and information they hold. This could help fuel the development of local content and conversations.
We also talked about membership organisations, and Craig – like Clay Shirky – believes they face a tough time unless they change the way they operate and offer greater value. Craig writes here about the Landscape Juice Network, where professional gardeners, landscapers and designers have a site created by Philip Voice using free Ning software. It offers a place for members to provide information to trade and public about their services, while sharing a common space in which to solve problems and offer each other help.

I then want on to meet Gary Copitch, who is one of the pioneers of local community networking. He joined Manchester Community Information Network 10 years ago, and is now helping develop People’s Voice Media. They run a Community Reporters programme, social media centres, Internet radio, and are experimenting in a host of different ways in which new social technologies can be used locally for social benefit.
As you can hear, Gary gives a pretty eloquent explanation of what’s possible, and I’m really looking forward to working with him and a team of reporters at the National Digital Inclusion conference at the end of April. We are already talking about how the team can shoot some video on the realities of digital inclusion – or exclusion -  from the streets and homes of Manchester, and the potential of social media.
Tomorrow I’m off to Birmingham to find out for myself about the great things bloggers and other social media enthusiasts are doing there, as Nick Booth explained here.
There may be a lot of buzz in London, but I suspect a lot of the solid, useful application of social technology is happenign elsewhere with too little recognition. Ooops, reminder to self – must meet up with Harringay online. Who else?

Seriously Civic Social Media in Brum

Today’s the last chance to comment on the Birmingham Big City Plan, so in case I have one or two readers up that way I’d better get this posted, and also endorse Nick Booth’s recommendation to click over to the independent Big City Talk. There you’ll find a “plain English” version of the plan and a host of comments from Brummies who care about how the City Centre may change over the next 20 years

More generally, it’s an opportunity for me to flag up the buzz of social media activity in Birmingham, created by people like Nick. We met up the other day at UKGovCamp09, and I took the chance to interview him on why online journalist Paul Bradshaw says Birmingham is “the sort of social media haven that has people around the world scratching their heads in curiosity”.

Paul was writing about the move of Birmingham Post’s Development editor Joanna Geary to London to become The Times Web Development Editor. Apparently Jo, with the likes of Jon Bounds and Pete Ashton and Nick has helped create the “haven” with its social media cafes, surgeries for voluntary organisations … and a paper that really sees the value of encouraging local bloggers.

Then there’s how bloggers put together a really understandable online consultation process for the Big City Plan, without antagonising the council, and getting a link. Nick explains how it was done.

Real Civic Media … passionate, sincere, hyperlocal … and so different from much of our mainstream media.

More here on hyperlocal media, including Will Perrin’s plan to train thousands of local activists in the use of social media, which I gather is likely to get funding soon. I would love some of that to happen in London … but I think Birmingham has the edge. Or maybe I’ll think it is Manchester, after I’ve visited Gary Copitch and the team at People’s Voice Media in a few weeks.

More buzz around Local 2.0

Another boost to the growing interest in using social media for local communication and action, with a report from Kevin Harris on Simon Grice’s Hyperlocal *mashup workshop, which he helped facilitate. Kevin did a lot of early work on digital inclusion and local online centres in the Web 1.0 world, and knows both about technology and neighbourhoods. This time around there are lots more commercial interests, though Kevin reports:

But at the end of it I found it hard to believe that any of the companies represented, large or small, has a commercial model that will deliver sustainable local online communication with an acceptable framework of ownership, in sufficient density to help compensate for the current inadequacy of communication channels at local level.

read more »

Organise social reporters? Up to a point.

I’m delighted that the idea of social reporting, which I first floated a couple of years ago,  is taking off without much promotion from me. Maybe there’s something in it. My friend Paul Henderson of Ruralnet came up with this admirably brief definition, applauded by Nancy White, and Bev Trayner has posted a thoughtful analysis of the role, about which more later. read more »

Could the BBC co-design its new community services?

Here’s a try-out for socialreporter as collaboration co-ordinator, on the lines of “wouldn’t it be a good idea if…” rather than “here’s a problem, let’s stir things up”.
I wonder if it’s possible to organise a get-together between people interested in how new BBC services may support social action, local democracy and online communities.
It seems timely because the BBC is planning something substantial which could, for the first time, link their “professional” services to online material produced by citizen journalists and other local community media projects. Proposals will soon be put to the BBC Trust, which has to approve the plans.
Before that happens it seems to me important that all parties take a realistic look at what’s possible, and think out how to co-design something useful to local democracy.
The problem is that the community side of the deal may not hold up. Recently Charlie Beckett, champion of networked journalism, raised the issue of what happens if no-one comes … that is, the citizen journalists don’t materialise in the form the professionals hope. The BBC’s Robin Hamman offered some useful insights from the Manchester blogging experiment, including:

People don’t necessarily blog or post content about the topics, stories and events that media organisations might hope they would – and, in our experience anyway, rarely post about news and current affairs.

Now another media commentator, Martin Moore, has trawled through the Annex 8 of OFCOM’s Public Service Broadcasting Review similarly trying to work if there’s a future for local news, community and social action on the web. In Still waiting for local community web sites, he writes:

When it comes to local content – particularly community / social action, or news (outside major news organisations) there is, according to the report, precious little out there. There are exceptions of course – hyperlocal independent sites like Urban 75 (for Brixton) – but these are few and far between. ‘Local, regional and national sites’ the report says, ‘tend to have limited ambitions and low production values’.
And then there are the local newspaper sites. Unfortunately many of these are ‘heavily templated and homogenous between regions’ (p.38). Trinity Mirror is trying to break the mould slightly with its postcode project (e.g. see TS10 Redcar), though it’s unclear the extent to which this is a vehicle for news or for classified advertising (though you could argue this is the same for many local print papers).
It’s very difficult, in other words, to find successful examples of thriving local community sites (as compared to the US, say) and even harder to find examples of local sites performing the ‘watchdog role’ of the Fourth Estate (a role that appears conspicuously absent from OFCOMs definition of ‘public purposes’).
We already know that local broadcast news is in serious trouble (not least because OFCOM tells us it is), but going by this study it’ll be quite some time before local community sites can fill the gap.

So who might be interested in a get-together? I keep bumping into people from different innovative parts of the BBC who say, yes, interesting things are happening but it’s not actually in their department. … love to know more. The BBC Trust are thinking about how they might develop an online presence after their experiment in engaging with bloggers last year. I should think Charlie and Martin would be interested, and my friends at Involve, who specialise in public engagement.
On the local front it seems a must for Bristol, home to many excellent local e-democracy projects, led by Stephen Hilton and his team. The Connecting Bristol blog has hosted some lively discussion recently, and Stephen picked up on the BBC plans in The BBC, Democracy & The Internet – Job Done. As part of the discussion there I wrote:

Maybe the BBC will venture into networked journalism, as hinted in the Action Network closure statement.
I hope that the BBC Trust – who have to agree the plans – will give us a chance to engage with them online as well as running their traditional consultation process.

Professor Stephen Coleman, who was guest blogging, kindly responded:

David – I agree. The BBC Trust certainly ought to connect with the e-democracy community. I’m sure that there’s much valuable advice that you and others could offer them. The Centre for Digital Citizenship at Leeds University would be happy to set up a forum for such an exchange of views. Let’s see if we can take this forward in a way that will help the BBC to make the best possible plans.

Birmingham is another place with some online civic activity, and I do hope Nick Booth and Paul Bradshaw might be interested. They have been selected as the only UK finalists in the Knight News Challenge, a competition based in the US to develop and fund innovations in online journalism. Nick is a former BBC producer, and in his podcasting and blogging is one of my inspirations for social reporting. Paul is a City Birmingham City University lecturer whose Online Journalism Blog is another inspiration.
So there’s a start … and I’m sure there are plenty of other people potentially interested. I had hoped that the RSA would act as a convenor for this sort of project, but their journalism initiative sounds like a professionals-only affair. Maybe the Centre for Digital Citizenship could step in, perhaps with some of the other organisations? I think a good first step would be something fairly informal that allowed everyone to get to know each other and be, well, collaborative.
After that, wouldn’t it be exciting if the BBC decided to join in a co-design process with people trying to make community media work – rather than invent something top-down which may or may not work?

Citizen journalism: what if no-one comes?

These days it’s no news that old-style newspapers are facing a big challenge from the Internet as people get their news and fun online, produce their own content … and advertisers follow them.
Recently Charlie Beckett was reporting from a major conference on media and social participation, where everyone was getting excited about the potential for old media to join up with what used to be known as readers and audience to develop what Charlie and others are calling networked journalism. The BBC is heading that way.

On the same day Robin Hamman was reporting the end of a pioneering blogging experiment that he and Richard Fair have been running for the BBC in Manchester, to trial just what Charlie and others were conferring about: User Generated Content. Both sound a warning note that any media people who are hoping UGC will solve their problems, should heed.

Charlie confronts it directly in Social media participation: what if no-one comes?, after listening to Richard Sandbrook, Global News Director of the BBC:

The fundamental assumptions of this conference are that new media technology is changing journalism and offers the opportunity for a more participatory and democratic form of news communication. The people gathered are serious and informed realists who are active media producers as well as thinkers. Richard is a good example, look at how the BBC has strived to include more UGC and include the public in the process. We all want this to work. We all want more citizen journalism as part of the news media.

This is partly because we know that change is inevitable. We also hope that networked journalism can save the news media from the economic disaster that it is currently heading towards. But it is also because the folk gathered at USC are generally political liberals who want the public to be more political – we want the people to speak and act through social media. So here’s the elephant:

What if they don’t want to?

The evidence from Richard’s talk and other places is that most participation is done by a small minority and they are often the same people who were active before. So do you go out to stimulate more participation? I suspect not in the old pro-active mode. The internet is all about generative creativity. It is about people creating their own communities rather than having them provided. That is why BBC’s I-Can project failed.

Charlie was referring to the Action Network, originally called I-Can, closing shortly, with an announcement about future plans that, as I indicated above, sounds very like networked journalism.

So what does Robin have to report from the experiment in Manchester? He said it was a rewarding experience becoming part of the local online community, that it took a lot of time, but there were spin-offs:

… when we were able to use the contacts and content we found through the blog on-air that equation immediately changed. That is, in resource terms, the blog was costly as just a blog but much more efficient as a driver of radio content.

However, what jumped out at me was this finding:

People don’t necessarily blog or post content about the topics, stories and events that media organisations might hope they would – and, in our experience anyway, rarely post about news and current affairs.

This suggests that there is a lot of work to be done in working through where the possible agenda of professional and citizen media overlaps, and what this will mean to civic life.

BBC trails their version of networked journalism

Closing Down 170In confirming the closure of the Action Network, set up five years ago to support grassroots action, the BBC offers some hints about what’s coming next in their public service remit for “sustaining citizenship and civic society”. The announcement says:

… we will continue our commitment to help people engage in civic life and national debate with two new initiatives.
The first will be to launch a new service which will give people access to all the BBC’s content across tv, radio and online on a range of topical issues. Many of these topic pages will reflect the same issues that have been central to Action Network, from healthcare and schools, to public transport and policing.
Each topic page will offer the latest news stories on an issue, including TV and radio programmes, while linking to the wider debate through people’s blogs, campaigns and websites.
Many of the Action Network guides and briefings will be moved across to the BBC News Online website and will be found in the new topic pages – and will continue to help people understand how political systems work and how to get involved.
The second is a wider digital democracy broadband project, ultimately aiming to provide video of debates and speeches from our main institutions, information on your local and national representatives, guides to issues and the institutions, and easy ways for anyone to plug in and take part.

I explored what might be in prospect at some length recently at Designing for Civil Society after hearing of a BBC demonstration in Coventry that upset regional media people … and linked that to the closure of the Action Network. E-Government Bulletin – where I picked up the current closure statement – says:

Some press reports and analysts have been linking the demise of Action Network to the planned launch of a new, highly localised, customisable news and information service online by the BBC. However, a spokesperson for the corporation told E-Government Bulletin this week that the new local services were not intended to replace Action Network, and their launch was not related to its closure.
The plans would make use of ‘geo-tagging’ and map-based navigation to create service customised by postcode, similar to but more powerful than the BBC’s current ‘Where I Live’ news interface.
These plans are still in their early stages, but are expected to go before the BBC Trust for approval this summer, the spokesperson said. If approved, the service is likely to take at least another year to launch.

Whatever: the line in the BBC announcement about linking to other people’s blogs, campaigns and websites sound interesting. Maybe it is the BBC’s version of networked journalism.
The growth of blogs, social networking sites democracy sites like TheyWorkForYou and E-Petitions are cited as one of the reasons for closing Action Network

Although we’ve continued to update our site with new features, we now feel that the pace and innovation of online democracy means that our members can access a wider range of web tools, and have more control of their campaigns, outside Action Network.

Over on the BBC Internet Blog Andy Williamson, Director of eDemocracy programmes at the Hansard Society, guest blogs on Digital Democracy: Bridging The Gap, further supporting the BBC’s role.

Access and literacy are pre-cursors to digital adoption, but personal motivation through accessible, relevant and timely content is the key to staying connected. So when Mark Thompson talked about the BBC’s rôle in building digital democracy recently, the idea resonated with me. The BBC’s Charter makes it clear that it has a rôle to play. While it is just one piece in the jigsaw, the BBC does have the scale and trust necessary to mediate the democratic divide.

This all ties in with Cabinet Minister Tom Watson’s promises of support for online collaboration through third party sites, rather than new Government initiatives.

A little more on the RSA Journalism Network

The RSA has provided a bit more information on their Journalism Network, started with the Reuters Institute of Journalism . As I wrote earlier it will be developed on an internal RSA site. It aims to “support the civic function of news” but will be focussed, says RSA staff member Rosie Anderson, on working, professional journalists as “a professional sub-culture, a community of practice”. Others who don’t fall into this category – termed “news users” – are encouraged to start their own discussions elsewhere … which I have done on the OpenRSA site.

Are transparency and information enough from the media?

British journalism professor Adrian Monck gives us a summary, on his blog, of his forthcoming book Can You Trust The Media?

The first two chapters look in detail at the recent crises in trust – the what, who, when, where and why of the events that have brought this issue to dominate so much of the public headspace – from the ethics of the editors of the Sun to the blatant fictions of the New York Times to the downfall of a generation of BBC bosses.

After summarising other chapters Adrian writes:

Conclusions are hard to come by in this morass, but there is one thing that I am convinced of and that is the more public information available, the better. In chapter nine, using recent UK terrorism cases along with examples from the world of business and their treatment by the media, I put forward my argument for a more transparent society. For me, transparency and information supersede our need for trust.

I think that for society to function successfully we do need a degree of trust in our institutions. I’m not sure whether Adrian is saying transparency and information are enough without trust – it’s a good teaser. Fortunately Adrian offers a pdf to anyone interested in reviewing, so maybe I can get an answer before the launch event at City University on 30 April at 6.30pm. Details to follow on that.