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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Monday, July 3rd, 2006

What would audience-driven journalism look like?

Posted by Kevin Anderson

There has been an interesting discussion, both online and offline, about audience-driven journalism over the last few weeks. It’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about for my journalism X-project.

Leonard Witt had some ideas about how the open-source movement could inspire a reinvention of journalism (podcast here - audio 4.7MB download). And Jay Rosen of PressThink wanted to kick-start some ideas at BloggerCon IV about what he called, the ‘users know more than we do‘ journalism.

I really liked Jay’s practical approach to it. He’s asking some of the right questions.

  • What kinds of stories can be usefully investigated using open source and collaborative methods?
  • Which user communities are good bets to be interested enough to make it happen?
  • What will it take to start running more trials that could yield compelling and publishable work?
  • What needs to be invented for this kind of journalism to flourish?

Like I said in my previous post, there are some projects and audiences for which this approach is best suited, and there are other stories where quite honestly, traditional methods of journalism and storytelling work just fine. Jay set up his post by having Ken Sands of the The Spokesman-Review in Spokane Washington guest blog.

We know there are local knowledge networks. Should we try to “tap into” them, or is it better to leave them alone until something happens to make partnership possible? Correspondents— we’re familiar with them. But we don’t know how to operate a vast and dispersed network of correspondents, linking hundreds or even thousands. Does anyone?

He has a few ideas: Local sports, transportation watch, weather watch. It’s all local. It’s about things people are passionate about in their own communities.

And I couldn’t agree with Ken more when he says that there’s no traction in the citizen journalism out of mainstream media outlets. Yes, as we’re about to look back a year after the July 7 bombings here in London, everyone remembers the iconic cameraphone pictures. But I think Ken is talking more about community around content rather than the flood of pictures we now get at the BBC during large news events in the UK. Is there a sense of community, a sense of participation in sending off cameraphone pics to large news organisations? I’m with Ken who points to Flickr, YouTube and MySpace.

Those sites work; the mainstream media versions—the industry calls it user-generated content—do not. Why?

I’m going to be doing some thinking out loud about these questions over the next couple of days. But one last thought before Suw and I shut the computers off for the night. We used to talk about broadcast networks, but the future is obviously in social networks. What is the role of the journalist in the age of social networks?

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10 Responses to “What would audience-driven journalism look like?”

  1. Barbara Iverson Says:

    In a new venture, “Creating Community Connections” http://creatingcommunityconnections.org project, my partner Suzanne McBride and I are tackling this question. There isn’t much on the site yet, as we are just beginning, but I hope to be growing content over the summer and fall.

    Posting a photo from a phonecam is so easy and immediate there will always be more of that than there will be of other kind of user generated content.

    In Chicago, there are community groups like Park Advisory groups or Local School councils where knowledgeable individuals can report on issues and ideas of local importance. In some cases, these folks may be writing already for newsletters. Will they be interested in contributing to a citizen journalism online publication?

    Not all the time, is my guess.

    Some neighborhood stories need only be told to neighbors. But there are other issues where the local people would naturally look around for allies, sympathetic ears or others with similar problems. They want to enlarge their social network and leverage it to their advantage.

    If the barriers to user generated stories can become less than the rewards of connecting and building coalitions, people will post.

    I agree with you that the key to this is social networking but I suspect that it involves engagement of some sort. How to engage with a community without becoming a partisan is one of the things we are thinking about.
    barbara i

  2. Steve Says:

    Kevin,

    Perhaps the new Netscape.com is an interesting model to watch. Like digg, it allows people to submit stories, but it also includes “anchors” who sift through the stories to highlight the most interesting and important ones. Will a new journalism job title be “Social Network Anchor/Editor”?

  3. Dave Goodman Says:

    Jeff Jarvis is musing in a similar vein about the idea of ‘networked journalism’. Worth a read

  4. Steve Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Dave.

    Jarvis really fascinated me when he wrote, “[T]his isn’t about citizens or amateurs vs. professionals. We’re all in this together. Journalism is a collaborative venture. Journalism is a network.” My question is will this strip the job description of “professional journalist” to mere fact checking, vetting, typers, and grammar nazi functions?

  5. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Yes, Dave and Steve,

    I’m thinking more along the lines of Jeff’s piece in the Guardian (in the interest of full disclosure, he used to be my boss at Advance Internet). Like I said, this is the first of several posts, and I’m thinking more about a project that partners with my audience, co-creation than a pure user-generated project. Maybe I’m just trying to justify my existence as a journalist. :) Nah, I actually find it much more professionally satisfying. And I think building up a relationship with my co-collaborators is in the best interest of everyone. If people feel a part of something, it just works better. Trolls get turfed out. Contributions are of higher quality.

    I would have the other posts written, but off the back of this post, I was invited to expand my thoughts in a piece for journalism.co.uk, which I’m doing in another window as write this comment. Amongst all of the other windows that Suw and I are using to book our road trip across Europe. Too much multi-tasking.

    Keep those comments coming. It will help me focus my thoughts on this article. I still need to do some thinking about the right editorial propositions for this. I don’t think this would work for every kind of story. What kind of stories would audiences coalesce around in a community fashion? It’s more than simple geography. Oh, well, back to the article.

  6. Paul Coletti Says:

    Whatever form ADJ takes there will always be a need for some sort of editorial influence. We tend to think of ohmynews as one of the pioneers of ADJ but — and I’m not trying to take away their ‘we were kind of first’ thunder — a lot of their output is shoddy and blurred. Ohmynews should be called Ohmycomment such is the vague distinction their 60-strong editorial team make between fact and opinion.

    Trust (or loyalty as you call it in your journalism.co.uk piece) will have to be engendered whatever form ADJ eventually takes. Innovative as they are ohmynews ain’t got it.

    Charles Saatchi in a recent rather self-promoting piece started talking about ‘one word equity’. A good example of this is ‘trust’ when applied to any MSM organisation. For example I personally think if the BBC were quicker off the mark they could nab this piece of ‘equity’ for themselves but the blogosphere in the form of ADJ has the chance to get in there quick.

    You only engender trust with strict editorial control. I’m not trying to be a control freak here and I know Digg and several other communal sites do it collaboratively, but I think true ADJ will also have to have some kind of final arbiter or arbiters.

    Imagine if World Have Your Say on the BBC was true ADJ with an automated daily HTML form/poll asking for audience requests for what the next week’s programme would cover followed by self-produced scripts complete with sound, cues, jingles and trails?

    It would be interesting but alongside the wonderful ideas (and inevitable trolls) you’d get without doubt a lot of dull crud that would make ohmynews front page but would not make good journalism (either traditional or ADJ).

    Ultra-local, networked, participatory, social, ADJ news . . . call it what you will . . . is growing at a zillion miles and hour but you’ll never get rid of the gatekeepers and nor should we want to.

    And when they (the gatekeepers) screw up we’ll be there watching. Just ask Dan Rather.

  7. Steve Says:

    I don’t mean to throw a wrench into the works, but what are the potential platforms for ADJ? The Internet appears to lend itself well to connecting people in a collaborative fashion, but there are some problems with it. For instance, it can take HOURS for the BBC World Have Your Say blog to update itself here in the USA. It wasn’t until after the show on July 7th that Kevin’s and Mark’s posts made it across the Atlantic. Even with telecommunications, there are delays. Another problem is the digital divide. There are many people who lack the training, exposure, access, or savvy (or a combination of these) to harness the Internet. How do we overcome these problems?

    How about mobile phones? They do a great job of connecting different parts of the world. For instance, Kevin once told me that World Have Your Say sometimes gets a bevy of text messages from Africa because texting is cheap while Internet connections are cost prohibitive throughout most of the continent. However, not everyone has access to cell phones, and people aren’t always in their coverage area. Plus, if someone was on the scene of a major news story (ie a massive disaster), cell phones may not work because towers may be out of commission.

    What are some other potential ADJ platforms? What are their obstacles?

  8. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Steve,

    There’s a post in your questions about branching out the platforms for audience-driven journalism. ADJ? I didn’t mean to create another acronym. My piece on Journalism.co.uk took up my post-writing time last week.

    But I just wanted to say thanks for letting me know about the long publishing issues for the World Have Your Say blog. I’m going to work with our tech team to see if we can’t work this out.

  9. Steve Says:

    Kevin,

    Paul was the one who really picked up the ADJ acronym. I know that you probably didn’t mean to coin a new acronym, but you just might have…

    Thanks for checking into how fast the World Have Your Say blog currently crosses the pond. (Update: It is currently 15:42 GMT, and the last posts visible on the blog for me here in Utah are from Friday). While this is a specific event, it does show that there are still glitches with using the Internet as an ADJ platform.

  10. Steve Says:

    Dr. Iverson,

    Concerning your community connections venture, you may find the article “US experiment in citizen journalism offers alternative model for local news reporting” (http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/story1920.shtml) at Journalism.co.uk interesting. It is about a Chicago area website that has local information created by a staff of volunteer citizen journalists. I think that reading this article and the site it is about could help you with your efforts.