Building bridges in Warsaw

Last week after months of redhot of rhetoric and heightening tensions, bloggers sent a letter to the Great Satans in the meainstream media ‘proposing new solutions’ in their long standing conflict. Oh wait, I’m conflating the WeMedia conference with the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Suw and I are proof positive that bloggers and the mainstream media can get along. This week, we’re off to another conference. Yes, spring has sprung, and the conferences are in full bloom. We’re off to a European Broadcasting Union conference in Warsaw where the theme is: Public Service Journalism and the Art of Building Bridges.

Hopefully, we can build some bridges between bloggers, citizen journalists and public service journalists. I think public service journalists have an advantage in this new world where we can partner with ‘the people formerly known as the audience’ to enrich our journalism and deepen our relationship with our audiences. We don’t have the pressures to monetise these relationships that commercial broadcasters do, and this kind of content co-creation has the opportunity to reinvigorate civic participation.

I’m moderating a panel on citizen journalism, a term that I don’t particularly like and neither does my friend Neil McIntosh, with Guardian Unlimited:

Let’s stop trying to make members of the public go to work like paid journalists.
Let’s, instead, alight on a model of citizen storytelling. Now, I know, storytelling gets a rough ride. Telling stories is something you do to children, or which children do to one another. And, vitally for the hype factor, storytelling just isn’t the ticket if you’re an academic trying to make a name for himself, or a businessperson trying to locate the Next Big Thing.

He also doesn’t like the term citizen journalists because it implies that journalists aren’t citizens.

I think that personally it’s more important that we journalists remember we’re citizens in our societies. I’m an old school idealist despite the economic realities and other constraints I’ve faced in my journalistic career. I still feel like it’s my job as a journalist to provide fellow citizens with the information that they need to make decisions in a democratic society.

Others in the industry think that the term citizen journalist is dressing up some very old behaviour. My old friend Rob Freeman, who left the BBC last year, said to me: “Isn’t this just eye witness accounts?”

Well, it certainly is, except now with the proliferation of still and video camera phones, those eye witnesses become not only someone who can tell us what they saw but send us pictures of what has just happened. And let’s face it, that’s one of the reasons why people in large media organisations have taken notice: Free content.

But as Richard Sambrook of the BBC, who I refer to as our Blogger in Chief, said last week, “I’m not sure they would even call themselves journalists.”

That is just one of the bridges they hope to build at this conference.

The other topics:

  • Muhammad Cartoons: publish and be damned? Does media freedom mean editors have the right to offend?
  • Reporting the world: Do media give enough space to international news?
  • Dealing with trauma: How do newsrooms prepare media professionals to cover events like the tsunami, the floods in New Orleans or the conflict in Iraq?
  • Building bridges with TV
  • Reporting Iraq: What are the risks, restrictions and possible rewards of what has become arguably the most difficult assignment?
  • Citizen journalism: Assessing the impact of citizen journalism on the MSM (Suw’s on this panel)
  • BBC College of Journalism: We hear how and why the BBC is re-training its journalists

I’m going to be liveblogging there so that conference participants have a place to carry on these conversations after the conference but also so that these conversations aren’t just an industry talking shop. OK, those of you who rallied to Suw’s call, Where’s the We in WeMedia, here’s a good chance to have the ears of some in the media.