What would audience-driven journalism look like?

There has been an interesting discussion, both online and offline, about audience-driven journalism over the last few weeks. It’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about for my journalism X-project.

Leonard Witt had some ideas about how the open-source movement could inspire a reinvention of journalism (podcast here – audio 4.7MB download). And Jay Rosen of PressThink wanted to kick-start some ideas at BloggerCon IV about what he called, the ‘users know more than we do‘ journalism.

I really liked Jay’s practical approach to it. He’s asking some of the right questions.

  • What kinds of stories can be usefully investigated using open source and collaborative methods?
  • Which user communities are good bets to be interested enough to make it happen?
  • What will it take to start running more trials that could yield compelling and publishable work?
  • What needs to be invented for this kind of journalism to flourish?

Like I said in my previous post, there are some projects and audiences for which this approach is best suited, and there are other stories where quite honestly, traditional methods of journalism and storytelling work just fine. Jay set up his post by having Ken Sands of the The Spokesman-Review in Spokane Washington guest blog.

We know there are local knowledge networks. Should we try to “tap into” them, or is it better to leave them alone until something happens to make partnership possible? Correspondents— we’re familiar with them. But we don’t know how to operate a vast and dispersed network of correspondents, linking hundreds or even thousands. Does anyone?

He has a few ideas: Local sports, transportation watch, weather watch. It’s all local. It’s about things people are passionate about in their own communities.

And I couldn’t agree with Ken more when he says that there’s no traction in the citizen journalism out of mainstream media outlets. Yes, as we’re about to look back a year after the July 7 bombings here in London, everyone remembers the iconic cameraphone pictures. But I think Ken is talking more about community around content rather than the flood of pictures we now get at the BBC during large news events in the UK. Is there a sense of community, a sense of participation in sending off cameraphone pics to large news organisations? I’m with Ken who points to Flickr, YouTube and MySpace.

Those sites work; the mainstream media versions—the industry calls it user-generated content—do not. Why?

I’m going to be doing some thinking out loud about these questions over the next couple of days. But one last thought before Suw and I shut the computers off for the night. We used to talk about broadcast networks, but the future is obviously in social networks. What is the role of the journalist in the age of social networks?