Jay Rosen: The UK is two years behind the US

Credit where credit is dueAfter 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.

BBC angle

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.

13 Replies to “Jay Rosen: The UK is two years behind the US”

  1. Having just returned from Jeff Jarvis’ networked journalism conference in New York and at which I spoke in the early morning ‘revenue’ section, I didn’t see a whole lot of evidence to suggest that the US was two years ahead of anyone on this side of the Pond; maybe in ‘working with the crowd’ but in terms of local revenue generating, my sense was that they’d already allowed Google, BlogAds, etc, to park their tanks all over our lawn and unless we all re-emerge as Paris Hilton blogs in the forthcoming ‘age of quantification’ – according to my new ‘pal’ at BlogAds – we’re all doomed. ‘It’s a race to the bottom…’ according to Mr BlogAds – he’s OK cos he’s got Ms Hilton. And while Assignment Zero might have pushed some concept buttons, it stayed firmly in the lab when it came to revenue generation. In fact, I’d suggest that in certain areas we’re actually ahead of them.

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  3. Interesting Andy,the first thing I wrote on my blog was Jay Rosen’s comments on the Uk being two years behind.

    I was intrigued by the comments of Andy Mitten who has resisted the lure of the internet andfeels that his niche market in football journalism should be paid for by the user.Do you believe that this is a model that can continue to survive?

  4. Well, you have to remember that local to them is a county in a state which may have the population of some of out regions! Though local journalism is important, it is falling by the way side as globalization take place.

    Too much localism is parochialism. Lets think about it from that perspective.

  5. Rick.

    It’s a good point

    In his post mortem, Jay quotes Assignment Zero contributor Derek Powazek on why more people didn’t get on board: “it’s because they[the public] haven’t decided if it’s worth doing them for you yet.”

    You’re right in that they can be google ad’ing their way past you in terms of revenue so why help you.

    But I kind of think that’s the point. The motivation behind the project was to see if it would open the door to that kind of collaboration – collaboration on an equal footing that’s been missing. Not can we make this work as a successful revenue model for media organisations.

    It was an exercise in testing the relationships and we, the mainstream media helped it fail because of the quality of that relationship. For me that’s why it stayed in the lab.

  6. Adrian

    A fact that seems to have passed a lot of journos by given many organisations apparent refusal to let them enage on those platoforms by blocking them. 🙂

  7. Nigel

    I though Andy’s comments where interesting too given that it eventually became clear that he was the niche – his position as the got guy on Italian football for example – and past expert at exploiting a niche – the fanzine and books he writes. I don’t think his experiences validated, or highlighted any benefit from, a “non-web” strategy.

    But I did think his experience highlighted how the web can help empower and inform niche exploiters – the example he gave of tapping in to fan forums – and how the big media doesn’t get that way of working. Better still it showed how it keeps him ahead of the MSM.

  8. John

    I agree they have a bigger pot to choose from. But my point would be that even given more people that would just be more Audience to most UK media outfits and not more opportunity to engage.

    For me the parochial element of all of this is the not recognising that there is anyone outside of the ‘media’ village. Citizen journalists or informed contributors are incomers not members of the community.

  9. Thanks, Andy. Couple of notes. When I said “two years behind,” I was not thinking of the people who on both sides of the pond are engaged in the new media discussion. People like Adrian, Robin Hamman, Kevin Anderson, Richard Sambrook, to name a few, are not “behind” anyone. This discussion in the UK and the discussion in North America are the same discussion. The Telegraph, The Guardian the BBC are doing as well as any US news organization. But you know that.

    I was thinking more about the broad middle of the news profession and where they are in understanding the challenge of the Web and changing balance of power.

    Second, about this…”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….”

    here’s a link you can use next time you make that point. It’s distributed reporting of the Obama campaign with 25 or so contributors attending the same kind of Obama events all over the country, and then pooling reports. This is NewAssignment.Net’s second project, OffTheBus.Net, with oartners the Huffington Post.

    And here’s a brief sketch of a third project: beat blogging with a social network. I am signing up newspaper beat reporters who want to test this approach. Hope to have 10-12 trying it simultaneously. I did mention this at the UK forum Tuesday.


  10. Thanks Jay

    I was thinking the same thing in the post. I think there are a lot of people ‘getting it’ out there. Shame there aren’t more

    The new project sounds interesting

    I like the way the off the bus people are credited.

    It would be great if there was one link that would take me to an ‘off the bus page’ with links to reports quoted. A kind of bibliography (or blogliography) for the piece.

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