Conversations for collaboration
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.
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.