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.
The aim is to help those in communities with high levels of deprivation find their voice online.
This project builds a network of social reporters who will train around 700 community activists in the use of social media.
Using a wiki and tagging tools, freelance social reporters will develop a common resource bank and workshop content in order to deliver a training session for community activists who have themselves volunteered to become social reporters for their organisations.
My belief is that potentially anyone can become a social reporter, because it’s what we all do already by asking “what’s new”, passing on (useful) gossip, telling stories about our experiences. What’s different is that we now have a lot of new online social tools to do that. Where social reporting, as I would aim practice it, may differs from much journalism is attitude and values.
Nick Booth, broadcaster turned blogger, podcaster and (I think) social reporter, says we need a culture shift from traditional cynical newsroom values that rely on conflict, criticism and celebrity for stories. I agree – and believe social reporting can be most useful where it helps people move from “official” language and cliche to “ordinary” conversation and narrative that helps collaboration.
This social reporting may be in local communities – as Clare proposes – across networks, and also at events, as I’ve been doing for 2gether08. At community events Bev Trayner sees the role of social reporting as:
- Keeping a shared memory of “what happened” through more than one people doing it, often in quite random ways, and brought together by tags;
- Using different types of media for reporting, each media type being accessible to different types of people with different purposes for “reading” the (social) report;
- Extending the conversation beyond any one mode (such as face-to-face mode, telephone conference mode, lecture mode) making sure you include people who were not “there”.
- Puting reporting in the hands of more and different types of people with access to different tools, technologies and approaches.
- Modeling different ways of helping people to make sense of an occassion.
- Shining a spotlight on periphery voices by looking out for and recording what they say.
- Advocacy – raising awareness, highlighting good practice, having an impact in ways that incorporate a wider type of audience than just those who will plough their way through traditional written text.
Much of this can be translated into other situations, and I sense that Clare favours a similar approach in local communities. I’m really pleased that she is promoting the idea of local social reporting … although I wouldn’t under-estimate the challenge of putting it into practice. (I should declare some history on this front, having started UK Communities Online with others back in the mid-1990s and tracked civil society developments in the field more recently).
It can be difficult to find local community activists who are also prepared to embrace social media; it takes more than a one-day workshop to change that; it is difficult to maintain local community sites; few people in local projects find time to throw themselves wholeheartedly into tagging content, developing wikis etc. in order to build a shared resource.
At the same time, there are a lot of people like Nick, Paul, Clare and others on the social innovation landscape who do share experience, and might do that in a more organised way … whether they call it social reporting, technology stewardship or whatever. A few of us have been talking about a get-together that might be the basis for a loose, open, community of practice. Perhaps this could be a first step towards something bigger.
But then another reservation emerges. A long time ago I was a “proper” journalist, paid by the likes of Lord Copper to put ink on paper. The only successful collaborations I recall my fellow reporters managing were leaving parties. Could social reporters be different? Up to a point, perhaps. Scoops drive hacks. Where’s the comparable, collaborative buzz for social reporters? Good news if Clare can help us find it.