How much ‘lived experience’ does your news site cover?

News, Community, and Lived ExperienceOne of the most common mistakes that news organisations make when it comes to community is trying to build participation strategies around an extremely narrow, overly-professionalised definition of news. If you want to miss the opportunity with blogs and other forms of participation, go ahead and focus solely on news. You’ll be missing out on the vast majority of ‘lived experience’ as the Center for Citizen Media called it in a must-read report called “Frontiers of Innovation in Community Engagement“. I’ve been quiet this week because I’ve spent a lot of quality blogging time digesting the 66-pages in this report and the annual State of the News Media 2007 report, which if printed out would come to 600 pages.

In the Frontiers of Innovation report, Lisa Williams, with Dan Gillmor and Jane Mackay, have examined in detail both what works and the commonest mistakes and misconceptions made in building communities online. This paragraph and the graphic above just leapt off the screen at me.

Broadly speaking, the most successful sites are most effective at translating the lived experience of their community onto the web. But only a tiny fraction of lived experience is news. One way of looking at the process of wrapping an online community around a news organizationis that it’s an effort to dramatically broaden the range of lived experience represented by the news organization’s output – output that now includes content supplied by nonjournalists.

Too many times, news organisations look to participation to simply bolster the mainstream news agenda, not to broaden it. What stories are we missing? What part of the audience are we ignoring? Whose viewpoint are we ignoring?

I still remember last December when Clyde Bentley spoke about his project at a event where I also spoke. Clyde said that his team had expected more discussion and stories about politics, especially during the US Midterms elections last year. As a matter of fact, he said:

You know what’s not popular? Politics. … Religion is far more popular than we predicted. And pictures of dogs, cats, even rats trump most copy.

Banal? Clyde even went on to say that journalists are rather poor judges of banality.

Sometime we get so close to the stories we cover that minutiae excite us a lot more than they should. I lived in and covered Washington for six years for the BBC, and I saw this happen in the Beltway bubble. Certainly, there are C-SPAN junkies that love to watch the minute-by-minute movements of the machinery of politics, but for every political news junkie, there are hundreds if not thousands of other people interested in a myriad of other things – minutiae by journalists’ standards but deeply important to them and their communities.

That’s where the bulk of the opportunity is for communities for news organisations wishing to launch community sites. It’s not all about hyper-local sites, although location is a good thing for people to coalesce around. But it will definitely require journalists to think outside of their own box if their community strategies are to succeed.

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8 thoughts on “How much ‘lived experience’ does your news site cover?

  1. Thanks Mike,

    The author of that post at Bivings is a friend and sent it along. The only thing I would add to the 16 ways that media can use blogs is one way that media organisations are using blogs: To make up for the lack of flexibility in their own content management systems. That’s for another post.

    But Steve has a pretty good list there.

    Nice redesign on Multimedia Meets Radio.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    An absolutely cracking post and something that I’ve been talking up in Project Red Stripe – The Economist’s internet innovation – which I’m working on.

    The other parts of people’s lives are vital to news organisations. They’ve got the community now, and still have the window of opportunity to enable it.

    However, what will really knock this idea out of the park is when organisations take news and lived experience and whack up the data optimisation to 11. Find out what people near you read, buy, eat and everything else in between.

    I am going to ask every one on the Project to read this.

  3. Kevin,

    Thanks. The inflexibility of the standard news CMS is something that I’ve thought about since we discussed my post. I would love to continue a discussion about how the CMS should evolve for the community building and storytelling that forward thinking journalists like you want to do. Further, although blogs aren’t the most interactive, they’re an important stepping stone for both professional journalists and their audiences.


    Your project is fascinating. Best of luck with that.

    Now here’s two blog posts that may interest you. Jeff Jarvis opines about community building in a great post titled “Whither Magazines?” at BuzzMachine — see However, I think that the Creating Passionate Users blog has some interesting commentary about the potential downsides of community building with its post “The Dumbness of Crowds” at

  4. Steve,

    Right now many news organisations are struggling with tough choices between scalability versus flexibility when it comes to content management systems. And some news orgs find themselves almost collecting CMSes because there isn’t one CMS that does everything. That’s not a huge problem as long as they can ‘talk’ to each other, but APIs and XML portability are relatively new ideas.

    But, like I said, that’s a blog post that’s been sitting in the back of my head for a while. However, the Center for Citizen Media report also talks about tech development models that work and provides a call to action by news organisations.

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