Tag Archives: journalism

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

All posts journalism open

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.

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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.

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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.

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You don't need a website for online presence

Two stories illustrate why is may be more valuable to be in lots of different places online, than on a conventional web site. First BBC journalist and online community expert Robin Hamman recaps a meeting about taking TV content and discussion online:

The other day I met with some work colleagues to discuss their proposal for a new blog related to a weekly regional television programme. When the hour was over they left not with a well formed blog proposal but with a handful of vague ideas about how they might get production staff and journalists working on the programme to actually start using some social media tools, in particular del.icio.us, as part of their process.

The idea is simple: think closely about how you can use third party tools, content sharing services and social networks to create content out of existing processes.
So, for example, a journalist researching a story online is likely to want to bookmark anything they might want to revisit later. Using del.icio.us instead of saving these bookmarks locally in a browser or text file means those bookmarks are (or can later be) shared with others, thus creating content out of the research process with little, if any, additional effort.

Robin also explains how you can upload and tag images, audio and video on third party services like Flickr and YouTube, where people may be more likey to find them.
Robin also highlights a story from Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism blog. One of Paul’s students, Charlotte Dunkley, looked at the online usage patterns of her target audience of 15 to 30 year olds in Birmingham and found that having a web presence, and getting noticed online, requires having content, and participating, in the places where your audience is. Not necessarily in creating a place for that audience to come. They were in MySpace, Facebook an E-bay – so that was the place to go.
Paul explains why such an approach makes sense:

Charlotte had been worried about her technical limitations and the lack of a website. Instead, she quickly realised that this wasn’t important – it wasn’t about building a big solid brick house, but about taking a bunch of caravans on tour, to where her audience lived online.

The good news from this is that you don’t have to create conventional website – although a blog is useful. The challenge is then how to operate across distributed communities. Ed Mitchell reflects on what this means in terms of facilitation if, for example, you are trying to track and interact with conversations happening in many different places. Even as an individual it can become difficult, as you start to monitor feeds of content from different place. We may see a lifestreaming backlash.

One role of the socialreporter may be to help organisations and individuals make sense of what is happening in many places.

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Profit or public service: call in the "users"

I found some convergence in two very different blogs on the value of what-used-to-be-readers in the age of diminishing newspaper sales and trust in journalists.

Ted Leonsis – US sports team owner, former AOL executive, film producer and much else – offers a Ten Point Plan to Revinent The Newspaper Business.
He starts with 1. Get out of the newspaper business – saying you shouldn’t be defined by delivery mechanism: think content distributed by TV, mobile, Web 2.0, radio etc. He goes on to say give it away, team up with media businesses … and lots more to increase ad revenues. Get rid of senior editors … what you need is “algorith managers” who know how to get the best click through to ads.
However, if Ted doesn’t value old-style editors, he does like readers:

9. Embrace user generated content. Today a newspaper company looks at its readership with basic disdain. These organizations must learn how to turn their millions of readers into content generators by creating a national polling service; embracing message board posters as part of the network; finding ways to get consumers to become uploaders of information; and creating local real time YouTube-like applications. Everyone has a cell phone with a camera. Everyone has a cell phone with a video camera. Embrace this audience with services and even a way to get money back for their contributions. Make them a part of your network. Don’t preach to them. Activate them to add to the knowledge base.

T-shirtOver in the UK Charlie Beckett is reviewing Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News, which blames commercial pressure for an erosion of ethical and effective original investigative journalism … but doesn’t, in Charlie’s opinion, have enough useful to say about what’s to be done. Nick pretty much ignores the positive potential of the Internet, unless savings by using new technology allows employment of more journalists.

Charlie is concerned to increase the contribution journalism can make to more than the bottom line. He

I believe that the solution lies in a mix of market and public service journalism. We need to protect the BBC and invest as societies in other forms of media that address market failure. News media companies need to invest in the future – and they are. But above all we need to seize the opportunities offered by new technology to bring the public in to the process.

… adding:

Davies’ mistake is to think in terms of the numbers of hacks at desks when we should be thinking about flows of information and transparency. It is the public who have the data, the knowledge and the critical insights that can bridge the funding gap.

He adds a plug for Networked Journalism and his forthcoming book SuperMedia (Saving Journalism So It Can Save The World), which I’m really looking forward to. You can get a foretaste in Charlie’s article for the Press Gazette last year.

Two objectives and perspectives – one increased profits, the other saving the world, but a similar solution: support your reader-viewers. Fine so long as they stay contented.

Photo credit: Heather Powazek

All posts journalism open

Journalists consider civic role: privately

The RSA is launching an RSA Journalism Network, with this introduction from Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication and Co-Director of the Centre for Digital Citizenship:

The public’s declining trust in the news media is a worrying trend. The RSA and the Reuters Institute of Journalism are looking at how we can support the civic function of news. We’re particularly interested in how professional journalists and Fellows relate to the public’s ideas about news and what it is for.

Discussion is starting over on the RSA networks site, but as you’ll find when you click this link it is behind a login. At present registration is open to anyone, but within a few weeks the Networks site will be limited to RSA members (known as Fellows) and specifically invited guests.

The idea of the journalism network is, according to an RSA staff member in response to my query: “to get our professional journalist Fellows involved and talking about their own ideas about the future of news … and to construct a bit of a safe space for that to happen”. Those currently accessing the site are urged to help by “accepting those parameters”.

I personally believe journalists should be prepared to talk about their work in public, as I’ve written at greater length over here. That seems to me particularly the case when the issue is the civic function of news. I think I’ll leave them to it. I am an RSA Fellow, but feeling less and less comfortable about that as a result of this sort of walled garden thinking. It’s not where a social reporter should be.

Photo credit: Sylvar – Quis custodiet custodes ipsos?