After listening to a panel discussion on local journalism Jay Rosen says that the UK is two years behind the US when it comes to collaborative journalism.
It got me thinking about why.
Jay was one of the panel at the 7th Journalism Leaders Forum held at the Department of Journalism. The topic for discussion was Local Turf Wars, a look at how different media where tackling the hyperlocal problem and where the people formally known as the audience fitted in to making this happen. (you can see a webcast of the discussion here)
Jay kicked off the discussion with some insight on his collaborative journalism project Assignment Zero. For Jay it was as much an exercise in working out how elements of complex stories can be distributed to groups of experts to make better content as it was the end result. It was a proof of concept.
Emma Hemmingway, academic, broadcaster and author of Into the Newsroom gave us a peak inside the BBC’s efforts to get hyperlocal broadcasting off the blocks with a pilot study for LocalTV in the Midlands.
The BBC are presenting it as a success but the evidence suggested otherwise. In working out how to ‘use’ the audience , the BBC had divided them in to
- Can’s – Those with the kit and the know how
- Could’s – Those with the know how and no kit
- Cant’s. – Those with no know how and no kit
Over nine months producers battled with content and in apparent frustration with some of the communities ability to live up to BBC standards many producers ended up shooting and editing content themselves. It seems that in dividing up the audience there was one category they all fell in to – Not BBC!
Another panelist Neil Benson, Editorial Director for regionals for Trinity Mirror, thought this was the typical BBC “imposing their own standards and pomposity” on the project. Along with Darren Thwaites of the award-winning Evening Gazette in Teesside, he talked about some of their hyperlocal adventures.
He also took the opportunity to announce a new project called ‘Make the news’. Although he was light on detail (commercial reasons, darling) he says he was heavily influenced by Jay Rosen’s assignment zero.
According to Neil, journalists needed to start thinking like radio producers.
It was a point that wasn’t expanded on but one that I really liked.
Thinking like a producer
Coming from a broadcast background I’m comfortable with the idea of a producer. They are the ones driving the project, managing the team and pulling everything together to tell the story. Even though they have a firm hand on the editorial tiller, they rely on experienced researchers, expert advisers and experienced technical crew to bring the programme together.
I think Jay’s idea of collaboration is a lot like that. He said that the biggest challenge for journalists is controlling the division of labour. Working out who is best to handle that element of the story whilst keeping an editorial line.
That team effort is recognized in the credits that role at the end of a programme. The producer, director and Executive producer get to go last in the list- in UK TV that denotes that they are the most important – but everyones contribution is noted.
That’s in sharp contrast to the way things are done in newspapers.
Credit your sources?
One question from the floor wondered how we can get the specialist correspondent with 30 years experience to engage with citizen journalists to help tell stories. I responded that perhaps that was a case of the journalist recognizing that some of those ‘citizens’ where actually more experienced and knowledgeable than they where.
That wasn’t a criticism. What I meant was perhaps they needed to see their relationship with some of the audience differently and recognize a level of ‘professional equity’. They need to say, ‘we are both great at what we do. Working together we can produce something fantastic’(one of the driving aims of Rosen’s Assignment Zero) and then credit that relationship to reflect the level of collaboration.
But it was clear from the discussion and the insight Emma offered in the BBC approach that we still have a very obvious them and us mentality in journalism. If you are not a journalist, working in our organization, in the way we work, you are the audience. It doesn’t matter that you may be a nobel prize winning scientist, or a ‘person on the street’. Whenever we talk to you, you are all the same.
For me that’s the fundamental reason we are still lagging behind.
Some may see that as an positive, egalitarian approach. But if we want to take full advantage of the opportunities to connect with people that digital affords then we need to move beyond thinking of audience and contacts and seeing those we use to tell our stories, experts or not, on a more equal footing. That doesn’t mean trying to turn them in to journalist or relinquishing that term to all to use.
It simply means that we need to be more transparent, open and honest about the increasingly important role they play. But I’m not holding my breath for the day a list credits appears alongside a print story.
And if you don’t think you we have a way to go on that front, you ask any newspaper journalist if they are prepared to share their byline with any of the people they ‘crowsourced’ or the citizen journalists they used.
Get on board with your audience.
Jay Rosen ended the evening with an analogy.
To him the industry standing on the edge of digital ocean trying to work out how to get to the other side. We know that a lot of the ‘people formally known as the audience’ have already set sail.
But there is a chance that if we get on board and share with the those digital communities about to set sail, we may just get to the other side in one piece.
The problem is that journalists are still only willing to share the boat if they can be the captain. Everyone else has to be satisfied with being crew.
If we get over that then maybe we can make up some of that two years of lost time.