Open Journalism and the 3 Little Pigs
Posted on Mar 03, 2012
No question the role of journalism has changed and continues to change. We no longer have to rely on the media for breaking news. Back when I worked in radio, a point of pride for that medium over newspapers for sure but also television is that we could be first. We were faster.
When something happened, it would be radio’s privilege to tell the world; that’s how people would first find out. Not any more. Now radio plays second fiddle to Twitter. That’s how I found out last night that Ron Wilson had been fired.
For print, the need for change is even more dramatic. And while there have been some changes, with the move to an ever increasing on-line presence, it seems the most dramatic change is just starting to emerge, and among those on the cutting edge is The Guardian. The UK publication has embraced the concept of open journalism.
Others, including here in New Brunswick, have dipped their pinkies into open journalism, such as going on Twitter to ask if anyone knows of anybody who is in just-and-such a situation, and if so, will they get in touch. There has been this kind of thing, but what The Guardian is doing is going far beyond, embracing the idea of collaborating with their readership not just for news tips but to no less than shape where they are going with their journalism; what stories are pursued, and how.
This involves a large degree of transparency, stripping back the curtain and showing the processes of how stories come together and inviting everybody to be part of it. And they are talking far beyond “send us your comments and we’ll post them”.
A case in point. Amid the British MP expenses scandal, The Guardian was handed more than 400,000 documents of expense claims. Obviously there was no way even a team of reporters could make much of a dent in that big a pile. Enter open journalism. The Guardian set up a widget that allowed 23,000 citizen volunteers to help sift through all those pages and file useable information back to the newsroom.
Last week, The Guardian released a two-minute video, an ad really, that shows how open journalism would determine the coverage of the Three Little Pigs fairy tale if that story were to break today. The video is brilliant on many levels from showing the citizen input in the story to the sheer entertainment value of the production. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDGrfhJH1P4
Among those bugs though, is at least one substantial one. This sobering perspective has been offered up by The Atlantic contributing editor and chief analyst and legal editor for CBS radio Andrew Cohen, who wonders how this would affect a defendant’s ability to get a fair trail. Here’s his essay: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/did-the-three-little-pigs-get-a-fair-trial/253864/
There are always pros and cons and I expect open journalism will remain a work in progress for years, but it strikes me that this could represent the most fundamental shift in news gathering and reporting in a very long time, perhaps ever.