What might be the values of networked journalism?

Charlie Beckett has been reading the Pew Report on American Media, which includes a research survey of 25 news sites and 39 blogs that might be considered Citizen Journalism. He writes:

The survey found incredible diversity but it also found that Citizen Journalism can be even less accessible to the public than mainstream media. Now Citizen Journalism tends to see itself as a force for democracy, which I think it is. But it is not a particularly interactive form. It is very hard to post material on most of these sites. Few of them allow email contact or even comments. And very few have any way of contacting the producers. This is what the Pew researchers conclude:

“A persistent criticism of traditional news media is that they tend to involve very strong gatekeepers and allow non-staffers to publish only the occasional letter to the editor. Indeed, one idealized element of citizen journalism is the idea of allowing individuals to publish whatever they want. The strong gatekeeper approach among traditional media has also been identified as a justification for the development of blogs, primarily because with blogs a traditional news organization-type gatekeeper would no longer control the stream of information and opinions. Blogging allows citizens to open up the marketplace of ideas and contribute their opinions and ideas. Other than allowing visitor comments about posted material, however, the majority of people running the sites analyzed here tended to be strong gatekeepers.”

I think this may be initially disconcerting, but is not necessarily surprising on reflection. People who traditionally emerge as “community leaders” may have their hearts in the right place, but may also get rewards for all their hard work through closer contact with people in power. They get invited to “represent” and “attend” – and relish it. The best leaders, in my view, operate by facilitating and supporting others in their community … helping them find a voice. They resist the temptation to speak on behalf of others unless they have some basis for that through election or wider processes of participation.

For me that raises the issue of what values citizen journalists, or even professional, new-style networked journalists, should hold by. Certainly not the worst traditional news values of spotting conflict and making it worse, promoting celebrity, uncritically highlighting criticism. Nick Booth, over at Podnosh, reflected a while back on the culture shift needed in mainstream media. He was writing about a BBC experiment in Manchester to support bloggers.

For me a core part of the future of the BBC will revolve around encouraging others to find their voice and shape news. In some ways it is an extension of the American concept of Open Newsroom where the public is invited to join in editorial decision making.

From my experience of BBC editorial meetings this would require a culture shift. The discussion has traditionally been rather cynical – based on traditional journalistic instinct about what makes a good story. This will often require conflict, criticism and celebrity (or prominence) as a core part of the story. News is made or broken by whether those things exist or can be readily conjured up. (If you look at my post on David Cameron and Netiquette you’ll see how I still find myself exercising these muscles.)

With an open newsroom the public is potentially there to re-educate the reporter and editor about what is really interesting, rather than what hacks think the public wants.

This culture shift will also need to come as part of the BBC experiment. If the local bloggers are throwing up innovative fare while the BBC
journalists who decide which story to follow and which to kill harbour traditional values, it will fail.

From the Pew report it sounds as if the citizen bloggers are not always on the side of innovation.

Charlie says citizen journalists must embrace accountability, transparency and accessibility … and promises more ideas from the Media Re:Publica conference he is attending in Canada LA. I think that we could also look at people like Jack Martin Leith and Chris Corrigan for the principles of good facilitation in the offline world. Jack offers a guide to Open Space. Here’s Chris on his guiding principles:

  • The wisdom we need right now is in the room.
  • Facilitation is not a directive practice, but rather a practice of
    creating and holding a container for the group’s wisdom to emerge.
  • To get to truly creative solutions we must invite chaos and order to play together.
  • Leadership is about inviting passion and responsibility into the process and supporting connections for action.
  • The process serves the group and needs to be carefully planned but should remain totally invisible.
  • Co-creation is the best way to get to wise action
  • Process and content are equally important.
  • For a system or a group to function well it needs to be learning from its experience.
  • Groups are living systems, not mechanical systems.
  • All good work done in the world depends on good collaboration. Good
    work therefore is about both quality content and quality process.

That’s for a group in a room. Can we think about something similar for more distributed spaces as described by Ed Mitchell? Would an emphasis on facilitation detract too much from the traditional – and still valid – journalist role of spotting the story? Then who decides what is the story? Hope Charlie has some further threads for us.

Blogged with the Flock Browser


  • March 27, 2008 - 9:04 pm | Permalink

    The conference is actually in Los Angeles, my blog post was written while flying over Canada… looking forward to some interesting lines for us all. I am not the only Brit here – the BBC’s Global news boss Richard Sambrook s speaking tonight as the warm-up act, although considering the balmy weather we don’t really need much heat, just light.
    More from your LA correspondent later…

  • March 31, 2008 - 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Nancy White is someone else you should look at. She specializes in exactly these questions of online and offline facilitation, applying these kinds of principles to both.


  • Comments are closed.