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!

In summarising a response to a question raised in a session – “how do we leverage Seattle know-how for entrepreneurial solutions to global basic needs?” Nancy says:

My response was that journalism can help us convene the conversations that help make meaning across the network. It doesn’t have to DEFINE them. So the next step might be to visualize the network of people interested in global health news and began weaving the network by raising issues, convening conversations and reporting those conversations.

Adding:

From these musings, my key take away was that journalism has a role in network weaving. So many of the networks emerge, they aren’t built per se. They are powerful if we are aware of them and use them. We can notice them. Amplify thing in them that have value. Dampen the things that don’t work. In community activism, issues need both internal (private) facing spaces and external facing spaces. Journalism can weave across those external faces to see patterns of civic engagement and make them visible.

In this analysis I think that Nancy is reflecting the shift from online spaces that may have community managers, to the more distributed way the Net now works … as a mix of new (social networks, Twitter, blogs) with old (email lists, discussion forums). Making sense involves connecting across those many spaces, and where possible connecting the online and offline.
I’m really chuffed with Nancy’s thoughtful analysis and encouragement for the idea of social reporting. Like her, I would hope that journalism can help with network weaving. I certainly see it  as  key role for social reporting, across networks and also in projects as I wrote here.
What’s important is not so much the label for the role, but the values and practices that go with it. I tried teasing out how I see those here and here. Make Sense, Be Positive, Help Out and where necessary Be Critical.
Mainstream journalists, with their privileged access to print and broadcasting channels, and online platforms, clearly have an extraordinary opportunity to be network weavers, surfacing the conversations and stories that support civic engagement, tackling wider social challenges.
But which journalists would you trust to do that? Probably not the reporter who recently turned a blog post about events 10 years ago into a story about “The male chauvinist pigs of Irish air control”, prompting this online petition. The reporter was reflecting the current news values of the paper … blogs are weird, air traffic controllers are threatening to strike … let’s take a pop at them.
So far there hasn’t been any response from the Irish Mail on Sunday that I can see. Am I cynical in thinking they may be shrugging their shoulders, and saying something like it’s a tough old world, we need to sell papers to stay in business and serve the public, you have to take the rough with the smooth. That’s an attitude I found when I was in the business a few decades back. Oops … there’s me falling into the same old stereotyping trap.
There are complaints procedures that we can use if we feel journalists are misbehaving. Will we need something similar for social reporters, charged with malicious weaving, and spinning corrosive tales? Let’s avoid turning into bad fairies, or someone may try and take away our spinning wheels.

3 Comments

  • January 28, 2010 - 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Re: “n this analysis I think that Nancy is reflecting the shift from online spaces that may have community managers, to the more distributed way the Net now works”

    ABSOLUTELY … AND… it is the complex ecosystem that reflects individual action, shared communal collaboration and distributed networked cooperation. So still those “communities w/ or without managers!” :-)

  • January 28, 2010 - 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Nancy – it was a really useful post, which firmed up my fuzzy thoughts on the topic. Sounbded like a great event.

  • Heather Dumfries
    July 14, 2010 - 4:40 am | Permalink

    It’s the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’there is very little objective reporting in any kind of media, nowadays. For me giving ordinary people the tools to be citizen journalists or community reporters means there is at least some hope that the issues that are important to minorities all over the world has some chance of being heard by a wider audience than just their friends and neighbours

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