Communities, journalism and stories

Suw, Paula Le Dieu and I went out for dinner a few days ago to talk about iCommons, a new project that is growing out of Creative Commons.

There is some really interesting stuff being done by people under the CC banner, and I’m curious as to how the BBC might release some of our news content under CC licencing to give back to the community of participatory media. Just a thought right now, but I’m keen that we as a big broadcaster give back to these communities and not just take pictures, audio and video from citizen journalists, bloggers, podcasters and vloggers.

Paula used to work for the Beeb on the Creative Archive project so knows about some of the rights issues that we might run up against. It’s more difficult than it sounds or should be.

But we got to talking about communities and journalism. Paula said that the job of journalists, if you really boil it down, is to tell stories about their communities.

Living in a Bubble

I was at the Web+10 conference at Poynter last year, and I remember we were talking about blogging. Someone said that the world of blogging seemed like an echo chamber.

Well, as the barbian inside the gates, I stuck my hand up and said: “I’ve worked in the Washington for 6 years, and if the Washington Press Corps isn’t a echo chamber, I don’t know what is.” Even in a room full of journalists, applause broke out. If journalists repond like that, what about our readers and our viewers?

Sometimes, it feels like journalists and politicians are just talking to each other, and it frankly doesn’t have much to do with what the average citizen really cares about. Who’s communities are we telling stories about?

You decide. I report

As an American working for the BBC, covering my own country from one step removed, I had an interesting position somewhere both inside and outside. I wrote a blog of sorts during the 2004 election Technically, the blog were just static pages generated by our production system with some user comments, but I tried to behave like a blogger and have a conversation with my readers.

I took the view that the campaigns and the press corps that followed them stuck to their own scripts. Was there something more that people wanted to talk about? You bet. Healthcare. Social Security. Issues. It felt like a community.

I guess that’s why I’m surprised that this whole bloggers versus journalists battle still rages on. Bloggers are only a part of the communities we serve, but I don’t know why more journalists don’t blog. And I don’t mean using a blog as another way to package a column. As Bob Cauthorn wrote, that is just old school journalists “getting snaps from aging publishers for getting jiggy with the youngsters by jumping into that blogging thing”.

No, I mean blogging to actually have a conversation with your readers, your viewers, your communities.
I joked wih readers of the blog: You decide. I report.

I think sometimes our audiences feel like we’ve left them. It’s not surprising that they’re leaving us.

7 thoughts on “Communities, journalism and stories

  1. “[T]he job of journalists, if you really boil it down, is to tell stories about their communities.”

    That may be the job of some journalists some of the time, but if that is the job of journalists boiled down to its essence, someone is really missing the point.

    Much of the most compelling journalism comes from journalists taking a completely outside perspective. You think the best journalism on Scientology is by Scientologists? The best journalism on the Jim Crow south by the KKK?

    If this is the thinking of the citizen journalist movement “it” could do well to take some journalism classes. (I’m a big fan of citizen journalism, I just want it to not suck.)

  2. The managing director of an international news organisation once told me (ok, and my university classmates!) that the job of a journalist was to put the advertisers and customers in contact with each other. Everything else: news, views, letters, etc. were simply to further that aim.

  3. Whenever I think about journalists engaging in conversation with their readers, I’m reminded of that early blogger Mr Beauchamp in the film Unforgiven who arrives in Big Whisky armed with his webpage and RSS feed.

    Those with whom he came into contact read what he had to say, submitted their comments and left him trackbacks – all of which brought him to the conclusion that his original posts were a little off the mark.

    Realising this and accepting the input of others made him a better blogger… and his Technorati rating soared as a result!

  4. Jesus, just to clear things up.

    I don’t disagree with you about outside perspectives being valuable in journalism. The Washington Press Corps and a lot of other journalism is crippled by being too inside the story instead providing some kind of critical distance.

    But I’m not talking so much about citizen journalism as I am about journalist bloggers.

    A small but growing part of our audience expects a right of response. Some journalists see this as a threat. Personally, I love it.

    It’s like what I’m doing right now. You had some questions about what I wrote, and I get to refine, clarify and reconsider what I said. Brilliant.

    As Hodgers says, “accepting the input of others made him a better blogger”. Accepting the input of my audience and now having the technical means to easily get that input, makes me a better journalist.

    Oh, and BBM, I work for the BBC. We don’t do advertising (well there are parts that do). I don’t have to bring eyeballs to adverts, just do good journalism, which increasingly as my boss Richard Sambrook says, is about the global conversation.

    Thanks for those comments. Back to the day job,

  5. Overcoming Blogger’s Block

    Jill Walker is blogging less, or so she says – this wouldn’t be newsworthy if Jill wasn’t a genuine A-list academic blogger, and (I suspect) an inspiration for many an academic, and others in what we might laughingly refer to as the real world, to st

  6. Kevin,
    Of course, thanks for clarifying that. I had forgotten. However I still hear cynical inner voices of dissent.
    Just looking at today’s front page I wonder about the quality of that “good journalism”. At the bottom of your “international edition” there is a link to:
    The opening paragraph is so hopeful:
    “Cut-price air travel has arrived in South-East Asia – and it is making the same kind of impact as it did in Europe and the United States.”
    But the “impacts” it is talking about hardly address the key issues of budget travel and and its effects (in Europe at least). The tone of the whole article is imbalanced in not even mentioning any downsides to low cost air-travel (e.g. environmental).
    However on the right hand sidebar there are “Related Internet Links” …. to seven airline companies. Mmmmm. So these airlines don’t pay you (the BBC) to do this, apparently. So why do you? Do you get something else perhaps?

  7. BBM,

    This isn’t the BBC’s editors’ blog, although that will launch in the next few months so I’m not going to overstep my bounds. I’m not writing this blog for the BBC or as a BBC employee.

    But I will say this as a journalist, sometimes we think of balance in terms of the entire body of work we do, not just individual articles. That’s not to say that balance itsn’t important in individual articles, but especially in online journalism where we tend to write slightly shorter articles, we have to keep the articles pretty tightly focused. We might write a story on one subject, in this case, the expanding market of low-cost carriers, while dealing with the economic impact or environmental impact in another story.

    For instance, on the BBC News website, we have other articles such as this:

    that talk about how the carbon emissions due to aviation will make it difficult for the UK to meet its Kyoto targets.

    As for why the links only refer to airline companies, I just checked the story, all of the airlines are mentioned there. I do agree that links should be included in assessing the balance of a story, but I can understand the journalist’s decision to link to the airlines mentioned.

    However, if you have some links of groups that talk about the environmental or economic impact of low-cost airlines, please send them along.

    Thanks for the comment,

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