How the social reporter idea started

I started thinking back in October 2006 about “social reporter” as a useful label for what I might do with a mix of social media tools and face-to-face activities.

As a role social reporter could sit with knowledge activist, technology steward, collaboration co-ordinator as a description for someone exploring how to do good stuff with new stuff. It also appealed to me as a former newspaper reporter now interested in how professionals and amateurs (or pro-ams) could work together on a new kind of news – what Jeff Jarvis, Charlie Beckett and others call networked journalism.

I tried the terms on a few people: some liked it, some thought it was about getting invited to write about parties. Well, that didn’t rule it out.

I registered various socialreporter domains, but somehow couldn’t get around to starting another blog. Then a former newspaper editor gave me as final nudge when she told a conference: “never, ever, talk off the record to a journalist”. Catherine Bellis was talking to PR and communications professionals working for housing associations in Wales, where I was running a workshop on how to use social media.

Catherine’s point was that you couldn’t trust journalists to keep any confidences if there was a possible story. They would ask around until they could stand it up from another source. Rows, conflict – good news. The point I was trying to make in my workshop was that social media could be used to develop conversations for collaboration. As I reported here people at the workshop were interested – but felt the cultures of their organisations might be against anything that challenged power structures, and gave anyone but the bosses a voice. They and Catherine were saying control your conversations – particularly where media is concerned.

Wouldn’t it be better, I thought, if the efforts of at least some reporters could be focussed on challenging disempowering cultures, rather re-inforcing them. Enter the social reporter.