News Leadership 3.0

November 19, 2009

Publish2: Capturing the power of the link

News organizations use this free aggregation service to deliver more links and information to their users

I’ve been remiss in not writing sooner about Publish2, a free service that enables journalists and news organizations to pull together, organize and publish links to interesting material. I’ve been playing with Publish2 for a couple of weeks and thought about it only for my own use in bookmarking articles for future reference or to share with colleagues. But Publish2 has produced summaries of how news organizations are using Publish2, so a little light bulb went off and I want to share the glow.

The Publish2 list includes The Washington Post’s Daily Read of investigative reporting from around the Web, Dallas Morning News’s Dollar Wise feature that offers links to information how to save money, Knoxville News Sentinel pulling together links on breaking stories. The News Hour on PBS used Publish2 to collect and publish reaction when President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ryan Sholin, director of news innovation at Publish2, says 10,000 journalist users have registered at the site and the organizations using it are a mix of newspapers, hyperlocal neighborhood news sites and blogs, TV, radio, alt weeklies, and international users.

The New York Times, Miami Herald, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Spokane Spokesman Review, and the Washington Post have been active users recently. “We see a ton of use on blogs, section pages, and individual topic pages, like elections, or swine flu,” Sholin said. The Des Moines Register builds topic pages for hometown heroes like Shawn Johnson.

In Washington state, Sholin noted, six news organizations have formed a collaborative Northwest Newsgroup to share links to regional news and deliver it with widgets on their sites. “It’s pretty amazing what they’ve been able to put together across newsrooms and even different parent companies,” said Sholin, who was a Knight News Challenge winner for a different project.
News organizations do not need a developer to get started with Publish2, he said. “If you can copy and paste a chunk of code into an article or section page template in your CMS, you have everything you need.”

I asked Ryan how he liked working for a start up after leaving a traditional news organization (Gatehouse). “It’s a lot of fun. If we have a great idea on a Monday, we build it by Wednesday and launch it by Friday.  That’s just a bit faster than a large media company can move, so it’s been great to work in an agile environment.”

He said Publish2 welcomes suggestions and other feedback. “Everything we do is by-journalists/for-journalists, so we love the feedback and input we get from news organizations. Most of the features in the Publish2 system are there because a journalist said ‘...wouldn’t it be cool if…’ “

“We see the collaborative curation of news as a trend that we’re out in front of, and it’s great to see news organizations using Publish2 as a newswire for the Web,” Sholin said.

It’s also great to see more news organizations discovering the power of linking and aggregation to provide users with a richer experience and to enable those who want to go deeper and wider on a story to quickly access more material.

October 12, 2009

Civic engagement 2.0

As digital media change the way people engage with civic issues and causes, can traditional journalists take part and help the public conversation go well? I will use a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellowship to find out.

(This is a revised version of a draft posted earlier. There is new material throughout.)

I spend a lot of time these days talking with local foundations and nonprofit organizations that want to help fill information gaps in their communities. They’re building Web sites designed to engage their communities in news and information (often with funding from the Knight Foundation, which contracts with me to coach these start ups.). These enthusiastic conversations make a heartening counterpoint to the wrenching struggles of established news organizations.

imageThe optimism is not the most important difference, however. The biggest difference is this: Journalists are out to do good journalism. These community start ups put civic engagement first.

At its heart, journalism is about fostering civic engagement by providing news and information that empowers people to act as citizens in a democracy. At least, that’s what we mainstream journalists tell ourselves.

In traditional media, the journalism generally doesn’t look like that. For example, one recent study showed that more than half the coverage of the health care debate focused on political battles and less than 10 percent focused on policy.  That wasn’t exactly a surprise. “We don’t learn,” I wrote recently as I passed the a link to the information along on Twitter. In reply, Jay Rosen nailed it with this admonition: “Face it, @michelemclellan. If 55% of health care coverage is about the politics that’s a statement by our journalists: ‘this is what we do.’ “

Competitiveness, craft imperatives, professional goals and now, the revenue free fall—all important issues— trump the civic. When journalists gather in newsrooms, bars and at conferences, they talk about craft practices, tell war stories, and the shiny bright hopes for a scoop or job stability.

It is the rare conventional journalist - certainly never me in nearly 30 years in newspapers - who walks into the newsroom on any given day and asked “What can I do to engage my community in civic affairs?” “How can I help make the debate go better?” I wonder how journalism, its place in the hearts of citizens, and public debate itself—might be different if journalists had come to work each day with that goal in mind.

This may be changing. As traditional news organizations falter, new practitioners of journalism are emerging: Citizens, foundations and other donors who are experimenting with models of news and information that put civic engagement is front and center as a priority. At the same time, the Web and social media make some forms of civic engagement easier and more accessible—activities like ratings, commenting, earning points for action.

None of this leaves traditional news organizations out in the cold. I’ve championed the idea that big local news organizations partner with community news start ups rather than treating them like more competition. I was thrilled to see that J-Lab, with Knight Foundation funding, is sponsoring several of these partnerships. I think finding the right mix of craft skills and reach of the traditional organization with the energy and fresh approaches of non-professionals will be important to the future media landscape.

All of this brings me to the fellowship I have just begun at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. I’m calling my project “Civic engagement 2.0.”

Journalism must recapture its credibility and relevance if it has any hope of providing value to the public. To do this, it is critical that journalists adopt new practices that foster the civic debate we keep telling the public we are all about. The tools are emerging—social networks in particular can transport news and information that engages people in discussion and problem-solving. News organizations - some led by non-professionals and foundations, social activists, politicians, and even marketers are discovering creative ways to engage people online..

Digital media and emerging citizen-led news and information services promise to promote civic engagement in ways traditional media failed to do. But I think there is an important role that journalists can play and I want to catalog and foster tools and practices to help journalists take part in and add value to civic discussions online. I also want to work with journalists and citizens to create new ways to engage online. I’m convinced that the ability to engage and foster community is a strategy that journalism must pursue for the long term even if it cannot be readily monetized today.

Let’s consider three important traditional roles of journalists and the opportunity to recapture them online:
(Note: This list of roles borrows heavily from my friend and RJI colleague Michael Skoler.)

1. Journalism surfaces issues of public concern. The Web offers journalists the opportunity to tap into conversations where important issues first surface. Pre-Web we used to call these “listening posts” where people gathered informally to discuss their concerns. Journalists rarely spent time in these these places, instead opting to listen more regularly to institutional voices and their framing of the issues.

2. Journalism provides facts and options that give citizens shared knowledge. The Web liberates information from print and enables wider sharing and discussion than ever before. Social networking tools in particular enable people to share information.

3. Journalism informs civic debate and solutions on issues of public concern. This brings it full circle; the journalist surfaces the issue and then helps guide the discussion toward solutions. It is a critical role for a trusted journalist, and one that seems to be slipping away in the 24/7 news cycle, if it ever really was being performed. Accomplishing this will take more then technology, it will require a shift in attitude or at least priorities. Some will complain that what I’m talking about sounds like advocacy journalism. But I am not talking about journalists expounding opinions. I am talking about what Jacqui Banaszynski, a friend and RJI fellow, calls “invested journalism,” which I see as a commitment to helping the community understand issue, see options and find a good path. For this, journalists may need to look to emerging citizen-led news organizations, social activists and even political causes for new tools and rules of engagement.

This all sounds very philosophical. But what I hope to produce are tools and best practices that journalists and other news providers can use to foster civic engagement in digital spaces, whether it’s on their own Web sites, in social spaces or all around the Web. I think much of this already exists and I’d like to help gather practitioners, learn from them and help spread the word.

For now, I have these questions (and I hope you will comment and feel free to make suggestions or ask more questions):
Is this the best way to be looking at this issue?
What best practices exist and who is developing them?
Do some of these practices exist outside journalism? Should I see if they can be adapted?
What is most missing in terms of tools and best practices that can help journalists engage in civic discourse online?

June 21, 2009

Guardian to users: Help us investigate

The British news site asks its users to help it examine thousands upon thousands of pages of expense reports of members of Parliament.

The Guardian is conducting a massive crowdsourcing experiment that invites users to help it investigate nearly a half million pages of expense reports and documentation submitted by members of the British Parliament.


The instructions are simple:

You’re amply justifying our hope that many hands can make light work of the thousands of documents released by Parliament in relation to MPs’ expenses. We, and others - perhaps you? - are still using these tools to review each document, decide whether it contains interesting information, and extract the key facts.

Some pages will be covering letters, or claim forms for office stationery. But somewhere in here is the receipt for a duck island. And who knows what else may turn up. If you find something which you think needs further attention, simply hit the button marked “investigate this!” and we’ll take a closer look.

How to get involved:

Step 1: Find a document
Step 2: Decide what kind of thing it is and whether it’s interesting
Step 3: Copy out any individual entries
Step 4: Make any specific observations about why a claim deserves further scrutiny

Examples of things to look out for: food bills, repeated claims for less than 250 (the limit for claims not backed up by a receipt), and rejected claims”

And the results are starting to show. Readers who combed through nearly 100,000 of 457153 pages of documents in the first two days of the experiment were turning up numerous questionable expenses or documentation.

The effort may not turn up any major fraud. But it’s a great way to engage a community as watchdogs and to increase awareness of how lawmakers spend public money. I bet the MPs will be more careful with their expenses if they know someone will actually look at them - and be able to post about them on the Web.

Could this be a model for local news organizations in the United States? Government expense reports, bids and contracts, and political contributions all seem ripe for crowdsourced scrutiny. The key may be to find a way to engage people with limited time in something that will end up worthwhile.

What’s your idea for a crowdsourced investigation in your community? 

June 09, 2009

Social media essentials: Inclusion, aggregation, engagement

Paul Gillin sees big opportunities for traditional news organizations to play a critical role in the new media ecosystem

What are three critical ingredients of successful social media projects for traditional news organizations? I’ve asked faculty of Knight Digital Media’s “Using Social Media to Build Audience” class to offer their lists.

Here’s social media marketing expert Paul Gillin:

- Inclusion. News organizations must realize “You’re not the oracle any more. You are part of a community and a critical, central part of a community of information providers that include people form all walks of life,” Gillin says.  “A lot of people have news to publish these days. And your role, increasingly the vital role of news organizations is to assimilate the information they are contributing ...  Nad to realize to… so you need to include a lot of different voices in what you’re doing and reposition your role as being the one who makes sense of it all.”

- Aggregation.“We an’t afford to be too tied to our own original content any more as the be all and end all. There’s lot of good content out here and the value that we can provide to our audience is to point them to the best content. .. We’ve gone from an information desert to an information deluge and the role of media organizations, a very critical one, will be to aggregate lots of options, lots of observations, first hand accounts, analyses, the stories told by people who are players in the news and to form a holistic picture of what happened based upon this very rich and these multiple sources of information.

- Engagement. The key to engagement, Gillin says, is “playing to people’s particular interests. So the special interests that they have in what’s going on in their town, on their block, in their school system, in their local businesses, at the chamber of commerce, in the park system, in their local museums, that’s what gets people really excited, that which touches them at a very personal level.” And today, online groups and other digital tools offer the capacity to gather people of like interests like never before.

What’s on your list of critical ingredients for creating communities online? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Here’s a full podcast of Gillin’s remarks. I’ll have additional installments from JD Lasica and Amy Gahran coming up.

Gillin also will be presenting the third and final installment of the KDMC/NewsU Webinar series on social media and building audience next week. “New Revenue for News Organizations” will air Tuesday, June 16 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Gillin will discuss ways that publisherrs can diversify their revenue sources, including highly localized advertising, information services, demographic editions and alternative delivery mechanisms such as audio, video and mobile devices. You can register here.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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