Posts about newsinnovation

You assign the journalists

This is cool: After joining in a blogfest at the BBC this week, the editor of the showcase news program (programme, I should say while I’m here) took a suggestion to heart and handed over a bit of control to the people formerly known as his audience. The BBC’s Jem Stone explains:

One of the guest speakers; Jeff Jarvis, suggested at the beginning when being gently grilled by BBC tech correspondent; Rory Cellan Jones, that news organisations should be commissioned or assigned by their audience to go report on stories.

As it happens one of the guests at the back was Peter Barron, from Newsnight who it appears was quite taken with this idea. The Newsnight blog that afternoon…

“You can tell our editor’s just returned from a blogging conference. Fresh faced and with fists clenched, he’s pushing another Newsnight experiment in audience participation. It’s quite simple – opening up the Newsnight running order to the people who watch us.”

And so for the past three mornings; Newsnight’s daily output editor has been sharing with users their morning email to the production team outlining the potential running order for that night’s programme. . . .

I don’t know how long that NN will keep to this approach but Peter, in a comment to the blog post on wednesday highlights how the running order changed that night to include a story about lifestyle/cancer risk.

“We won’t always be able to oblige – tomorrow for example we have a long film from Mark Urban in Pakistan whether you like it or not – but there’s no doubt that what you tell us will help us form our thoughts. If you’d rather leave it to us that’s fine, if you’re worried that what others say is unrepresentative get on here and lobby for what you’d like to see us do.”

Radio 4’s new iPM programme has gone even further and has been sharing the actual running order from the BBC’s internal news cps for this magazine show. iPM doesn’t air for another 10 days but they’ve been doing pilots leading up to the launch.

What’s doubly gratifying is eeing the helpful comments viewers make. The BBC asks for other stories and possible treatments and the people oblige. A few examples:

* How about covering the ‘creativity’ in education report from the Commons education committee. I find it astonishing that creativity isn’t an integral part of a child’s school and college experience.

* the election hypothetical just sounds desperate. [This refers to a story in the rundown.]

* I think you should cover the WCRF report on lifestyle / cancer risk. I especially like the direct comments about reducing red meat and cutting out processed meat entirely (BACON!?): surely the meat industry have something to say about this? [This refers to the story that was big in papers in London saying that eating bacon and such can kill you]

Dan, an editor on the show, responds:

Thanks for the suggestions. In particular the World Cancer Research Fund report on the links between lifestyle and cancer has attracted lots of interest. Their recommendations seem pretty harsh – try not to gain weight as an adult, avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and bacon. Are they serious? Do these reports do any good or do people just switch off? It would be good to cover this tonight if possible. What do you think?

A viewer responds to him:

The WCRF report is really interesting because it’s not a ‘new study’ – lots of comments on the main story are saying “enough with the new, conflicting advice” – but instead this report brings together all the advice over 50 years and comes up with some pretty stark conclusions. And they’re deadly serious! Whether people have had enough of being drip fed seemingly conflicting advice is another important issue.

And the viewers are grateful for this opportunity:

Wow! We have an interactive Newsnight. There are so many channels that let the viewer decide what they want to see, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it done for a news programme, and I love it. What I’d really like to see is Jeremy grilling Gordon Brown on his latest fiasco – the numbers of migrants in the UK! Failing that GB could talk about his upcoming role in The Simpsons :-)

And then here’s Peter Barron, the boss, with the bottom line: The viewers had an impact:

Thanks for all the suggestions today – I’m not sure what you make of this experiment but we were pleased, and have included the cancer story in tonight’s programme as a result.


In olde London

Some more followup to the National Union of Journalists row brought on when a member of the National Union of Curmudgeons rubbished web 2.0 and a chicken-little commission of the NUJ tried to close the door on change:

Roy Greenslade gave us his considered response to comments on his decision to quit the union. He discusses an anonymous journalist grappling with being stuck between the union and the future and says:

Despite his continuing sympathies for colleagues, and his lingering desire to remain faithful to the NUJ, he will realise that the demands of a paper gradually moving from print to screen are inimical to those of a union that, despite its pro-digital rhetoric, is committed only to preserving outdated demarcation lines, defying the need for flexibility and struggling to fend off staff cuts that, in fairness, will be necessary.

How could I possibly remain a union member when I now hold such views? To advocate that we need fewer jobs is anathema to the union. That’s why I say it would be hypocritical for me to go on being a member. Nor could I, as some commenters suggest, fight for that position within the union. It would be a laughable option. . . . I cannot, in all conscience, remain within a union I now regard, albeit reluctantly, as reactionary. The digital revolution is here and I am digital revolutionary.

Neil McIntosh shoots the NUJ’s red herring in a barrel.

Donnacha DeLong, said fishmonger, appeared on BBC Five Live’s Pods and Blogs show.

And Suw Charman and Kevin Anderson take a different tack, defending web 2.0 and its benefits.

The mainstream media is not leading the charge to the internet, it is following along behind its audience, laggardly, sullenly and defensively. Many journalists have spent ten years dismissing the internet as a fad and an inferior medium. They are equally dismissive of Web 2.0 without even knowing what it means. DeLong says on the NUJ New Media’s blog, “So there we go – a nice big debate about the issues”, but he has done nothing to move the debate forward and nothing to help of inform NUJ members. Instead, he has engaged in more scare-mongering about the threat of the internet and simplistically focused on perceived, but illusory, dangers to journalism.

Both of us embraced the internet because of the opportunities it presents. It’s the world’s greatest story-telling medium, bringing together the strengths of text, audio, video and interaction. The internet as a communications tool can help journalists tap sources like never before, making their stories richer and more balanced. Why wouldn’t journalists take advantage of the internet?

Yes, the job is changing, and we as journalists need to change with it. The internet may be posing a threat to the business model that support journalism, and it’s understandable that this causes anxiety. But misrepresenting the reality of that change won’t make it go away.

Suw and Kevin are reluctant to feed the troll and though Jay Rosen cheers them on, I understand their hesitation. It’s a mistake, I think, to let the curmudgeons set the agenda and, for that matter, get the attention. It doesn’t move us forward. And I really don’t care if they are left behind. Andrew Keen made suckers of us all when he staged “debates” around teh wrold to promote his awful book and for awhile, I was such a sucker. Now DeLong thinks that he has caused useful debate. But Suw and Kevin are right: He did no such thing.

So I’m looking forward to Neil‘s next post with his suggestions for his union. I leave it to the members whether that is worth the trouble. But I do think that looking forward with tangible strategies for change — best practices, lessons learned — is the only debate worth having.

: MOMENTS LATER: Here is Neil’s five-part prescription for the NUJ. He suggests fixing the union’s publication and web site (irony often noted), creating a place and even a conference for debate, becoming more transparent, and this:

5. Accept muscle has been replaced by knowledge

This final bit is inspired by Jeff Jarvis’s idea of the new collective, posted last week. It’s also the most testing bit for a union, because it can’t be just a token effort.

Here’s the thing: once, a union’s members gained their power only through collective (industrial) action. Today, union members find it both harder to strike legally, and harder to say yes in a strike ballot. That’s led to a diminishing of the power of trade unions, even if diehards refuse to accept the glory days are gone.

It would be better for all if you realised the new power comes through circulating knowledge through the ranks – not the kind of badly filtered, politically tainted, change-is-bad “knowledge” we’ve seen so far, but real information about what the hell’s going on.

I think the problem is this: jsut as we as a profession and industry must learn how to open up, we still talk about it in closed organizations and meetings. I heard the other day from someone who complained about the Online News Association conference in Toronto. I can’t judge the conference since I was thwarted from getting there. But I did find the agenda to be weak tea and I’ve long been troubled that it is (irony noted) an echo chamber.

The essential mistake is organizing around organiztaions. We need to organize around interests, skills, experience. Look to the example of the Facebook hackathons: Interested developers organize themselves and get together to share the best practices and frustrations and needs and ideas, generously, openly. They don’t join a union or an association or work for a company. They just learn from each other.

That is the new collective.

Web Zwei

The much-anticipated launch of Der Westen, the new web 2.0 local service from the WAZ regional newspaper group in Germany, comes tonight. Martin Stabe has links and background. Here was my blog post with Katarina Borchert, the most impressive blogger-turned-internet-newspaper exec who has led the development. Here‘s Thomas Knüwer’s interview with her. And here‘s a Spiegel feature about it all. (Those last two links in German.) I’ll be in the air when it goes up but will return with reaction (auf Englisch) soon.

Network them

Through the referrers, I just found the video presentation for one of the Knight News Challenge innovation teams, this one dear to my heart: It pushes networked journalism. The audio dies after the first four minutes but those first minutes are a powerful argument for collaboration.

Hey, kids, let’s gather some data

Among the tools for networked journalism I’m wishing for is a simple one for creating collaborative data bases.

When the Brian Lehrer Show mobilized the people formerly known as its audience to find out the prices of groceries across New York, they entered their findings in blog comments, which were laboriously compiled by hand. How much better it would be if the show had a simple data tool — as simple as blogs and wikis — to set up the basic fields their reporters could have used to report back. It would also be wonderful if that data could then be searched; if calculations could be run against it (give me the mean, the average); if it could visualized in charts; and if it could be exported for mashups (e.g., plotting it on Google Maps).

I don’t know whether this is it. But looking at my referrers this morning, I saw that someone N Levels, a startup, had created a form to gather data I asked for earlier: a collaborative data base of wi-fi speeds and prices in hotels. Here’s a description of N Levels that others of you will understand better than I.

The goal of N Levels is to enable users to create their own “information networks” that overlay and complement today’s web page and hyperlink structure. By information network, we mean a set of objects that are connected by relationships, forming a directed graph.

An object is a collection of properties which represents “something” – it could be a physical entity, animal, person, concept, idea, or absolutely anything. A relationship is a label that defines how two objects are related to each other – for example parent-child, location, containment, etc. An object and its possible relationships is defined by its schema, or “object type”. By having well-defined schema, it becomes easy for humans and software to traverse, consume, and extend an information network.

I was talking about such tools for collaborative journalism I wish someone would build with Clay Shirky when he came to talk and share his wisdom with my entrepreneurial journalism class. Clay’s students could do it and we’re talking about that.

Here’s another one I want: When a reporter, pro or am, uses a camera phone to take a picture — or, for that matter, to upload text, video, audio, anything — wouldn’t it be wonderful to attach the data the device knows: time and date, of course, and also GPS. This then allows gangs of reporters to submit information that can be plotted on maps and timelines and then associated with other data. See this Dutch experiment in which reporters were given mobile phones that fed through a server that did some of this.

And, of course, once news and data is in such a system, it can also be retrieved by location. See Socialight’s brand new service in London: Text 88811 and your GPS phone will give you nearby establishments and also fellow users’ notes.

(And that reminds me of my lunchtime conversation yesterday with Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham about the big trends we’re all watching. One of them is the tying of web to real things and places. Fred took a picture of me on his phone and thanks to Dave Winer’s programming sent it to Flickr and onto Twitter. I said that photo would be so much richer if it had the GPS attached and then folks could see where we were eating and eventually who’s nearby. But I digress.)

What other tools of networked journalism do you wish for?