With so many changes happening in the industry, and so many new ways for people to get involved in the journalism process, sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of what to watch. Here are three things that are new to me from the world of participatory journalism that I’m going to keep an eye on this year.
Number 1: Liquid News Room
This participatory site is being developed by Steffen Konrath and has a lot of potential. The idea is to monitor which stories the audience finds most interesting, then assign a reporter to further investigate and create a longer format piece.
While speaking with Konrath, I expressed concern that sometimes there are stories that should be covered that no one is interested in—the danger in this type of format is the push to follow, for example, a celebrity wedding instead of a political crisis. And as Mike Brannen eloquently points out in his blog: “We have access to an abundance of stories on the Internet, and based on those, we can draw a conclusion on the public’s attitude. But, there is no substitute for human observation, instinct and interpretation of perceptual cues.”
Konrath assured me that the site is dedicated to quality journalism. While all types of participation are encouraged, editorial heft is weighed, and the ideal is to get freelance, experienced journalists located where a story is taking place to do the fact-checking, digging, and writing.
Number 2: ScribbleLive
This live blogging tool was introduced to me by a professor at Ryerson. We put it to the test at Sheridan during a special production of our student newscast, live from the grand opening of a new campus in Mississauga. You can use ScribbleLive from your computer, or download an app on your smartphone that allows you to easily upload pictures, video, and text. Then it’s a simple step to pull in Twitter feeds, and allow the audience to comment and engage in the process.
As you can see from the live blog of the event, we just scratched the surface of this blogging tool’s capability. The students loved using it and became engaged with the idea of engaging an audience. This semester we’ll be live blogging during each of our newscasts—asking for audience input on editorial decisions, posting commentary on stories/interviews we’re working on, and allowing a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into our production.
Number 3: Cheap tablets
One of the biggest barriers to fulsome audience participation is the digital divide—some people can afford to be online and involved, others can’t—and their issues and concerns aren’t always addressed in the news.
This is not just a matter of being able to afford news stories housed behind a paywall—something that according to an article from the Nieman Lab could be more related to philosophy than socio-economics—but the ability to own technology and obtain Internet and/or wireless service.
Even in the instance of using ScribbleLive for our student newscast, only students live at the scene with Blackberries or iPhones were able to take part. Now to a tool that might help solve this type of problem: $35 tablets.
A tablet will soon be sold in India for $35 to students, $60 to the general public. Assuming developers can live up to their promise to allow access through second generation phone networks instead of wireless, the number of people able to access information on existing news sites, or even tell their own story, could grow by about a billion.
It’s not just digital engagement that should be the goal in participatory journalism, but digital diversity. And digital diversity comes from finding new ways for more people to get involved in the storytelling process.
Happy New Year