Earlier this month, the World Editors Forum, part of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), released a report on "Open Journalism". The 17-page study looks at innovators in the practice of open journalism, and includes interviews and original research for each case study. Here are the highlights, the full report can be purchased on the WAN-IFRA website. (A free executive summary is available too.)
"Open journalism is journalism which is fully knitted into the web of information that exists in the world today. It links to it; sifts and filters it; collaborates with it and generally uses the ability of anyone to publish and share material to give a better account of the world."
"[it is essential that traditional newspaper companies] put their audience first and return to the heart of their communities," whether through initiatives like iwitness24 or just by getting more reporters out on the street. "And a more connected audience means a greater chance of satisfying advertisers."
"[If] you're not embracing digital platforms, not only as a distribution tool, but more importantly as a news gathering tool, you're going to be left behind"
"So the advice is, work out what's distinctive about your brand then work out how you can translate that into social media...Our flagship community feature, as an example, is the Economist Debate. That's an Oxford-style online debate which takes a full two weeks to finish. It generates a lot of discussion on our sites and indeed on social media and around the wider web. So the long and the short of it is, if you ask for a lot from your community, you will find that you get a lot in return."
"To have a relationship with someone you need to trust each other, and to have trust you need to be transparent. That's why we opened our doors."
"Many journalists understand that readers have useful knowledge, but they also get very disappointed every time they look at the user comments that their journalism provokes. They hear about the wisdom of the crowds, and all they see is bickering. So, we must be doing something wrong. Usually we ask our users for their opinion. We ask them to be commentators on our agenda. This is an attempt to ask different questions: instead of 'What do you think?' we're asking 'What do you know? What have you learned? What insight can you share?'"
"Is it possible to properly verify snippets of information that come to you from strangers in 140 characters? Absolutely not," says Lewis, "and that's not what we do." But he explains that Twitter proved invaluable in directing his coverage of the unrest. "I might say 'where do I go in Hackney? Or Camden? Or Birmingham? Or Gloucester?' and I would get about 20 or 30 replies, of which 75% were in agreement," he explained, "now that doesn't mean that I'm going to publish that there were riots in that particular street where everybody tells me to go, but it can inform my reporting in the sense that it can direct me to that street and that's where I see the riots."
"Around a third of our stories are suggested by readers. As soon as we publish a story, they 'edit' it for us by commenting if we have made a mistake, have chosen the wrong angle or have used an inappropriate title. They distribute the stories they like on Twitter and Facebook. They are our focal point and our axis."
What comes next?
As can be gleaned from the thought leaders' ideas above, the practice of open journalism is not a step-by-step exact science. Rather it is a loose framework that many news organizations are experimenting with in an attempt to improve their relationships with their audiences through transparency and collaboration, and thus improve their core products: the journalism. Perhaps largest amongst the challenges in practicing open journalism is creating a clear business case for it. Luckily, there are already a few examples that can point us in the right direction.
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