Part of a new series I’m starting to explore social, creative, and economic opportunities specific to London Ontario.
Recently I posted about the benefits of educating citizens to think like journalists. Since then I found a lot of great examples of a collaborative approach to journalism — not just between professionals and amateurs, but between organizations and (in a sense) collectively.
First, I loved this story of what happened after a small-town librarian in Colombia worked with a media professor to teach ten regular library users how to blog & podcast of what happened to a citizen journalism training initiative in Madagascar:
They were mostly writing about what donors would consider “non-serious” content. Occasionally they would post short videos about environmental and social challenges in Madagascar, but a lot of the content is what would be considered diary writing. Then something unexpected happened: on March 17 a coup deposed president Marc Ravalomanana. 15,000 protesters took to the streets, many countries froze their aid programs, and misinformation was frequently spreading on the airwaves of the radio stations that managed to continue broadcasting. Amid all the chaos, this group of Foko bloggers became the go-to sources of information for the international press. They were featured on CNN live, the BBC, New York Times, and Reuters.
Another interesting example is LePost.fr (subisidiary to Le Monde), as explained in this interview:
Each journalist is also in charge of a small group of active amateurs. He is their coach and teaches them the basics of the journalist job, tries to encourage them and even meets them in person. He understands that information is a conversation. He does not produce an article but more a process.
According to this, that 2 year-old French site has a readership of 2 million, built from a newsroom consisting of 1 editor and 8 specialized journalists who work with a community of 25,000 members (only about 1 or 2% provide the majority of content).
All of these links are via Jay Rosen.
What got me thinking about it (this time) was the coverage of Orchestra London’s opening night. By London’s standards it was “polyphonic,” with several different voices registering around the same time & topic. Apart from Free Press, Larry Cornies wrote about it on his own site; Stuart Thompson wrote about it for The Beat; Philip McLeod wrote about it on his own site, and I also watched Greg Fowler tweet from the last council meeting where it was discussed.
A lot of reporting, with some opinion, and zero conversation.
[Update: After sleeping on it I wonder if that criticism might have been counterproductive — could have emphasized the positive aspect a little more.]
We need to connect more. As it is now, dialog either takes place a) in official settings, where isn’t really dialog at all, or b) in private, where it isn’t as accountable or potent as points being made online with links to each other, which anybody can find and follow-up on and try to improve.
[Added: We need to bring the dialog out into the open, make our views as accountable and articulate as the reporting is. We need to show leadership — demonstrate that commentary on emerging policies is a process, not merely a series of products. And hopefully more people will participate when they see that example.]
Meanwhile, in other cities the mainstream news outlets are already starting to do collaborative journalism. Jay Rosen (again) points to a project in Madison, Wisconson:
When our jobs were secure, it was easier for us to bicker with each other. Now we are more inclined to see that we’re all in this together.
… The idea: Get individual Madison media to all do enterprise reporting on the same topic, to show what we are capable of as a community.
We could achieve collectively more than any of our outlets could individually. And we could demonstrate our ability to advance a common purpose, with each outlet doing what it does best.
London seems to have a pretty good character and size to develop an open collaborative media community — or at least one with a lot of complementarity and mutual knowledge — something really original and noteworthy.
Stepping back to a more general view for a moment, Daniel Little outlines the benefits of cooperation:
If a number of the members of a group agree to contribute our efforts to a common project we may find that the total results are greater — for both common goods and private goods — than if we had each pursued these goods through individual efforts. Cooperation can lead to improvement in the overall production of a good for a given level of sacrifice of time and effort. This description uses the word “agree”; but Robert Axelrod (The Evolution of Cooperation) and David Lewis (Convention: A Philosophical Study) observe that many examples of cooperation depend on “convention” and tacit agreement rather than an explicit understanding among participants.
So cooperation can lead to better outcomes for a group and each individual in the group than would be achievable through entirely private efforts.
Making things more interesting, it’s no minor detail that UWO is home to one of the province’s two graduate journalism schools and a number of complementary programs at Fanshawe College.
On that point, following the release of the Downie-Schudson report on The Reconstruction of American Journalism [pdf] [abridged], Nieman Lab posted a breakdown into six main points which included the suggestion,
Universities already run teaching hospitals, why not news orgs?
Partnerships between news outlets and universities aren’t new, and they appear to be going through a metamorphosis of sorts, with investors, public/private organizations, and schools pooling resources for hybrid newsgathering. The report recommends bold and compelling steps beyond current efforts: the authors want to see full-fledged, year-round news operations run by faculty and students. Similar organizations already exist to some degree, but the picture painted by the report’s authors looks more like a teaching hospital than a college-based newsroom.
There must be something in all of this worth exchanging points on and trying to sustain… maybe a “meta” discussion like this is where we start.