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.

Thank you for that kind introduction…

I say taking over the mic. Oh wait, that’s over at our podcast. Suw and I have so many of these chats over coffee and crepes (I can’t believe it took an American to introduce her to Nutella) that we decided to capture some of our conversations and invite a few more people to the table.

You know Suw. I affectionately refer to you, her adoring masses, as Suw’s posse. But who is this Kevin character?

The Edward R Murrow of the internet

A friend once said of me that everyone wants something from me but managers don’t know exactly what to do with me. Sure, my journalism career started pretty traditionally. I went to J-school at the University of Illinois, but it just so happened that while I was studying to be an ink-stained wretch, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina were on the other end of campus coming up with Mosaic.

Before that, I thought the internet was pretty cool, but I couldn’t see my parents getting into it. They had trouble with the VCR and the microwave. How the hell were they going to get their heads around this internet thing? (Bless ’em. I just got them onto Skype over Christmas.) But when I saw Mosaic, I thought as a journalist, this is going to change everything I do. I was just a little ahead of my time.

So when my managers scratch their heads and try to figure out where the hell to shoe horn me into the org chart, they ask, but what is it that you want to do? I want to be the Edward R Murrow of the internet.

Digital storytelling

My television professor told me that before Murrow, television journalism was really just radio with pictures. Radio presenters just sat in front of a TV camera. Murrow helped create a grammar for telling stories tele-visually.

What is internet journalism? Some 10 years into this project, it’s still way too much newspaper and TV journalism regurgitated on a webpage. I went to a great talk by Danish multimedia visionary Ulrik Haagerup last year. He said that at our most basic, journalists are storytellers. We’ve got all these new ways of telling a story, but we might as well be radio presenters reading out reports on a computer screen for all the innovation in the industry.

Our audience is doing it better

But our audiences aren’t waiting for us. Neil McIntosh says that blogging is the first native storytelling format to develop on the internet. A friend of mine said that he worried that blogging had stopped the development of digital storytelling in its tracks.

I initially agreed with him, and then I took a quick look at the really amazing ways that people are telling stories online, and then I realised that blogging and social media are driving digital storytelling online more in the last few years than we professionals had done in the last decade.

Colleagues ask me why I blog. Robert Scoble told me at a London Geek Dinner last year that blogging keeps him and Microsoft close to its customers. Blogging keeps me close and more relevant to my audience than the one-way journalism of yesterday, and blogging increasingly keeps me close to the digital storytellers that are leading the way.

PS. Thanks to Ben Hammersley who shot the picture of me at Les Blogs 2.0.

Welcoming Kevin Anderson to Strange Attractor

You might have noticed that Strange Attractor has been a wee bit quiet over the last few months. There’s one simple reason for this – I’ve been living in the petri dish instead of looking through the microscope at it. A few months ago I had a call from fellow Corante contributor Ross Mayfield asking me to work with Socialtext to help increase understanding and adoption of wikis at one of their clients, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, an investment bank in London.

How could I say no? For the last couple of years, I’ve been looking at the use of social software in business from the outside, or from brief forays into the business environment, extrapolating and working from first principals. Having the opportunity to put all that to the test, to spend a good solid amount of time on site, working directly alongside the business users and IT department was just too good to pass up.

And then of course I helped co-found the Open Rights Group, a digital rights campaigning organisation based in London. With luminaries such as Cory Doctorow on our Advisory Council, it’s another great opportunity for me to work on issues that are close to my heart, such as digital privacy and access to knowledge.

So my working week has been a bit full, to say the least.

But I felt somewhat reluctant to give up Strange Attractor. I’m fond of the ol’ blog, even though there are probably only about three people who still have it in their aggregator.

What to do? What to do?

The answer came to me as I was talking to my partner Kevin Anderson one day. Kevin’s one of the people working at the BBC on blogging strategy, as well as being a producer on the World Service’s radio programme World Have Your Say, a show best described as ‘it’s like blogging, but on the radio’. He also does a podcast with Ben Metcalfe and Paul Sissons called Talking Shop. So we’re talking about blogging, and journalism, and how the two can peacefully co-exist and it strikes me that Kevin has a lot to say, but nowhere to say it. I, on the other hand, have somewhere to say stuff but not enough time to say it.

I see a neat little solution to both our problems here.

Thus I would like to welcome Kevin Anderson to Strange Attractor. Kev will be talking about the intersections between mainstream media, citizen journalism, blogging, and anything else that strikes his fancy. I’m going to carry on blogging about blogging, and whatever else I feel like. Sometimes our threads might overlap, but between us, hopefully, we’ll manage to update Strange Attractor more than once a month.