Conversations for collaboration
Monthly Archives: March 2008
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Over 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.
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
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?
The Economist sees little future for walled garden social networking sites like Facebook and Second Life if they continue to restrict the flow of content across the Internet. A few years back we had AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy each providing their own subscription-based services, and look what happened to them:
Why stay within a closed community when you can roam outside its walled garden, into the wilds of the internet proper? Admittedly, it took a while for open and standardised forms of e-mail, discussion boards and file downloads—not to mention a new publishing technology called the world wide web—to match the proprietary, closed versions that preceded them. Today only AOL survives, and in a very different form: as an open web portal supported by advertising.
The Economist provides a more detailed analysis of the uncertain business models for social networking sites, which prompted me to wonder over here whether the walled garden approach will serve membership organisations well. I think it is another example of World 1 thinking.
One of the questions that Clay Shirky was asked when he spoke recently at the RSA about the role of online networks was how to tackle social exclusion, and connect people to greater opportunities. His answer: concentrate on those who can make connections, rather than trying to fund the excluded directly to connect with others.
Clay was talking about his book Here Comes Everybody. He said that research by Duncan Watts suggested that social density, the social clustering that gives you access to social capital – by which you can get loans or help – has much to do with like-with-like clustering.
What we end up with are small groups of people who are very similar, and there are only a handful of individuals in any given society who brigdge those gaps .
If I wanted to set up a programme to address social exclusion I would not try to address the bulk of the group because most of those resources would go to waste, because most of the people that people know are other people like them.
I would fund the people who are bridging the structural – I would find the people who knows someone in in council housing and someone who is living over in Belgravia. I wouldn’t fund the people in Belgravia or the people in council housing to just get together and talk to one other. I would find the people who are naturally bridging that gap somehow. I would give them the tools specifically designed for the connection or social bridging function that’s different from just what that everyday user might have.
What we found in every social system we looked at is that the imbalance of participation means that a few people are responsible for most of the social systemic connectivity, and concentrating on those people, on the outliers rather than on the average actually can improve the system as a whole
I think you could move more information, awareness, empathy, sympathy or what have you across those otherwise relatively unbridged gaps by funding the natural bridgers and strengthening them rather than trying to build new ones from scratch.
I think that one of the roles of the social reporter is to act as a connector between groups and across networks – so I’m naturally pleased by Clay’s analysis. I think it also ties in with the analysis of different types of online community identified by Ed Mitchell and the challenges of facilitating them.
I already have a blog, which I’ve been writing since 2003. So why start another one? Partly because Designing for Civil Society feels a bit limiting; I do write a lot there about nonprofits, community engagement, e-democracy and the like, but I’m now more interested in the way social media is changing how we organise, and the new roles associated with that. Social reporter is a bit crisper than Design-er for Civil Society.
It’s also about having a second voice – but as this story illustrates, that can bring risks.
The other day Dave Briggs spotted a blog called The UK Libertarian. It had one post which was a rant again government spending and civil servants. The blogger wrote:
I’ve kept this blog anonymous so that I can shout out what I think, and I want you to shout right back at me.
What he didn’t realise was that his Libertarian identify was easy to find because it was part of the Blogger profile of Josh March, who writes a blog about PR and social media called Social Marketing Strategy by Joshua. Josh was outed, and after I alerted him to Dave’s post a lengthy discussion followed about the pros and cons of anonymity. Josh didn’t deny the views in UK Libertarian – just said he wanted to keep them distinct from his business persona. He’s now taken the blog down, and Dave generously removed quotes from his blog, but you can see the discussion in comments here.
I understand Josh’s desire for another voice (though I don’t agree with the views he expressed). I do agree with Dave Briggs on anonymity, and with Paul Caplan who says that the blog conversation carries more authenticity because contributors are identified.
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.