This is social news

Last week in Berlin, I spent the day with the student-interns at Axel Springer’s in-house, two-year journalism school (that’s common in the industry in Germany) to critique the work they did creating a new news site that used social tools to report: This is South Africa. The site — and the students — were impressive because they stretched the definitions of news and reporting and the culture of journalism and did so inside a media giant. Companies in the U.S. would be wise to inject such youth and innovation into their bloodstreams

The students set off to report on South Africa around the World Cup using only social connections to people there via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, et al. They did not argue that this would replace reporters on the scene; it complements.

They studied the blogging scene in South Africa and made connections with them. They used Twitter and Facebook to follow the news and also to ask people there to report for them and to take pictures. They distributed their news socially.

Their news coup came when they reported on the trampling of spectators at an early game, beating big-media competitors in Germany by 30 minutes to more than two hours. They also argued that they covered stories the mainstream press didn’t, getting social contacts, for example, to take pictures of Blikkiesdorp, the “tin-can town” or concentration camp where homeless, black South Africans were moved for the games (I did find coverage in Die Zeit but not much elsewhere). They say they heard and shared the authentic voices of South Africans they met online and reported via different sources than mainstream media’s, interacting with those sources in new ways. They interviewed sources via Skype and even Facebook. They tried to tie online with the streets and create vuvuzela flashmobs across Germany. They measured success by retweets and conversation.

The students called what they made a beta. That alone is contrary to news culture, where we tried to convince ourselves and our audiences that we reached perfection at every deadline. The entire relationship with their public is something new for news culture — something I hope they can bring into their company and its publications as this class of students starts now on their practicum, producing Welt Kompakt (which on July 1 will have an issue produced by bloggers). I hope the students have the opportunity to train other journalists in the company on what they learned about what they can gain by using new tools to build valued new relationships with the public.

My only complaint about their project: They bragged that it had no ads. Give me these students for a term in my entrepreneurial journalism course and I’ll turn them into capitalists.

: SEE ALSO: Five things journalists should learn from bloggers.

  • Roman Huber

    The first problem in Germany, as well as in Austria, is, that young journalists have good ideas for online media but many old journalists are very suspicious about all that internet-thing.

    The second problem is, that the audiance either think like the old journalist or doesn´t want to have anything to do with media or news.

    The third problem is, that nobody wants to give away any information to the public. So there are only few people using twitter or blogs, that could be used for media like thisissouthafrica.

    I really hope that the Volontäre at Springer, as well as all the other young journalists, can change that.

  • Bill Waldron

    >>My only complaint about their project: They bragged that it had no ads. Give me these students for a term in my entrepreneurial journalism course and I’ll turn them into capitalists. >>

    Good for them.

    Capitalism Advertising.

  • Bill Waldron

    WordPress ate my symbol. The above should read Capitalism does not equal Advertising.

  • http://sputnik.pl/ Michal Tatarynowicz

    Please don’t use the phrase “concentration camp,” unless you’re very familiar with WWII history and certain that it’s comparable to Nazi concentration camps.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Oh, gosh, I’ve never heard of World War II. I’ll have to look it up. Jeesh. The term has been used before and since. You might want to look up a bit of history yourself.

    • http://geoimpulse.blogspot.com charlie mchenry

      The phrase could be accurately used to describe current conditions for the 1.5 million, 50% children, in the Gaza Strip. A proper example of a concentration camp in today’s world. Those who object to the phrase would be well advised to look at the actions of the heirs to Nazi brutality, who themselves are repeating the obscenity.

      • Andy Freeman

        > The phrase could be accurately used to describe current conditions for the 1.5 million, 50% children, in the Gaza Strip.

        You mean the folks who have a border with Egypt, a border that gets closed because the Gazans are murderous thugs?

        Note that the Israelis provide food and water. They allow others to do so as well. For some reason, they object to allowing in weapons that will be used against them.

        Yes, Gaza is a hell, but ….

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  • http://www.pageranked.com social news

    I agree with the first comment, things will move very slow until the conservative journalists jump on board. Community voting on articles is better then just trusting someone because they have been writing for along time. At least I believe so.

  • http://www.blueantt1.com/ Blue Ant

    “They bragged that it had no ads. Give me these students for a term in my entrepreneurial journalism course and I’ll turn them into capitalists.”

    Nothing much to brag about there, I agree with you on this one.