Earlier this week I took part in a panel event at City University in London. The discussion was around new ways of doing journalism chaired by Professor George Brock.
The other panelists were ex-Observer editor Andrew Jaspan, founder and CEO of The Conversation, a site publishing news and commentary by academic experts; Luke Lewis, editor of the UK edition of Buzzfeed.com and Anette Novak, ex-editor and CEO of Sweden’s Interactive Institute, which experiments with interaction design and data visualisation. The following is the talk I gave in the introduction for the event which finished with this video.
I think it’s fair to assume that everyone here will accept that the digital world has opened up journalism in ways which couldn’t have been imagined say 20 years ago. Depending where you sit that’s either exciting or scary. Maybe it’s a bit of both for many.
From where I stand, it’s definitely on the exciting end of the scale. The work I’ve been involved in for the past few years has been largely involved in what people often tag ‘citizen journalism’. Although a professional journalist for many years, I’ve found the new ideas and ways of doing things that digital opens up to be a wonderfully refreshing, invigorating, approach to journalism.
To introduce our work, at Talk About Local we’ve provided training and support for hundreds of people up and down the country who want to use digital tools to connect with people. And I choose my words carefully there – at a time when anybody can be a reporter, a witness, if you like , it’s important to note that there are many who not actually seeking to be journalists. Maybe the public perception of journalism has led to some rejection if the term itself but, whatever the reason, It’s an important distinction.
Digital tools offer people the ability to make powerful connections, ways to get things done in communities but, just because the output entails publication, it doesn’t necessarily follow that people consider themselves as journalists.
But of course some do. Some of the people we work with want to set up news services for their local communities. Perhaps they’re places where the mainstream media no longer wants to invest or where newspapers have closed or withdrawn to centralised production centres and are no longer seen as part of their communities.
These sites, sometimes called hyperlocal, have recently become a focus for a new type of council reporting as they’ve attempted to tweet, blog and record this important local decision-making. It’s been these men and women, not local newspapers, who have been pushing to get the cameras into town halls.
And last year we saw them became part of an unusual interaction between the minister Eric Pickles – who was even tweeting individual practitioners to encourage them to carry out filming – the sometimes reluctant town halls and bloggers on the ground. This activity has led to a bill currently progressing which will give the right to film and otherwise live record meetings in the future something which will benefit professional journalists alongside citizens.
And then there others again who want to provide pictures, thoughts, videos, comments and reportage for those publications they like to associate with. Like The Guardian for instance. We’ve been working with the n0tice technology from its conception. If you’re unfamiliar with that, it’s the technology platform which publishers can use to manage all this content from users and will be recognisable to a UK audience in Guardian Witness.
It’s a place where Guardian journalists are able to open up their stories to members of the public who supply pictures, videos and text. Typically the journalists put out a call to action, a recent one asking for pictures of Romania was really like is a good example and produced some remarkable images that might help build up a rounder knowledge of people from that country in the face of the fearful tabloid stories.
The content people provide can be displayed on the Guardian witness site but also gives the editors the opportunity to highlight items within their wider editorial pieces.
I think we sometimes forget what a thrill being published can be. One of my colleagues at Talk About Local was bowled over when one of his images from the route of Thatcher’s funeral turned up in The Guardian’s liveblog – he’s well used to sharing on Facebook or twitter his very widely read blog etc. but for him, there was something special about being featured in The Guardian.
Finally to wrap up on this introduction, I’d like to briefly touch on that other big area that digital has disrupted – payment models. From buying single music downloads to crowd funding start-ups to virtual currencies, the ways we pay for things has changed for good.
So what about journalism? Surely there can also be new and different ways of paying for that too, why do we have to rely on the big news organisations to carry out that role for us? Which is why the new platform Contributoria has been launched. Myself, Matt McAlister from the Guardian and developer Dan Catt launched this at the start of January after winning an International Press Institute award for news innovation.
It’s already been dubbed the baby that would be born if kickstarter and the longform writing platform Medium ever got it together. That’s probably the best description we’ll ever have tbh!
The way it works is that writers propose their story ideas and attach a price they wish to receive for their work. Members of the community take a look at the proposals and if they wish to back them, they allocate money via a system of points on the site. Those that get backed are then worked on in an environment which allows for collaboration from other members before the finished article appears in an issue, a bit like a magazine. In this first month we’ve already attracted hundreds of members.