Open Source Journalism

Journalism and media are undergoing a massive transformation. Many inside are feeling the pain, not the least of which are the CBC’s 800 employees about to get the axe. Clay Shirky recently wrote an important piece about “thinking the unthinkable” in newspapers, highly recommended reading. I took note of this in his concluding paragraph:

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

My work with TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin has been fascinating and rewarding in this context of massive change in the media business model and questions about the future of journalism as craft and practice. I think that what is important during this transformation is to unpack, unbundle and reconfigure the elements that we think of when we think about “broadcaster” or “newspaper” and reimagine how they can be reconfigured to deliver more value to more people. Value that people want to pay for.

The Agenda: on the Road project is an interesting experiment along the lines of what Shirky describes above. What began as a way to bring TVO’s flagship current affairs program into local communities has developed into an ongoing experiment in open source journalism and community engagement.

The editorial direction of this series of on-the-road broadcasts was conceived last summer, before the true depth of the economic crisis had taken shape. It was to focus on Ontario’s changing regional economies, to reflect local realities and to bring as many local voices into the conversation as possible. AgendaCamp became a full-day unconference event to explore these issues with passionate community leaders and citizens prior to the live-to-air broadcast of The Agenda. Participants created fantastic digital artifacts of highly informed conversations that would never be able to be fit inside the parameters of a 60 minute broadcast.

While all this user-generated content is being created and uploaded to, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc., the editorial team from The Agenda and Steve Paikin himself mix and mingle through up to 40 conversations on topics proposed and led by over 100 participants. Steve Paikin says it best, that every time he does this, he learns something new. He is learning from the community with locally relevant knowledge, he is able to further inform how he approaches the panel of experts, politicos and pundits during the broadcast and identifies interesting ideas, questions and people to call upon in the audience. Overall, we notice that the pre-planned questions to the panel tend to be completely reworked based on the new insights the editorial team glean from AgendaCamp participants.

So it came to be that I sat down with Sandra Gionas, The Agenda Producer responsible for the next in this series of on the road broadcasts, this one taking place in Waterloo on Sunday, March 29th and Monday, March 30th and focused on Ontario’s innovation economy. (AgendaCamp spaces still available.) In the interest of further experimentation and to encourage earlier, deeper engagement with the content, Sandra agreed to “open source” her research and thinking as she produced the show with the AgendaCamp community, via the blog, the wiki and her Twitter stream.

The idea is to both reveal a little bit of the work that a producer undertakes to help assemble a show like this one, and to share with the community some of the source material and research that have been undertaken. People with an interest in the topic of the innovation economy can edit the wiki page, suggest experts, link to reports and online resources, and otherwise add to Sandra’s research space that she’s sharing with the community.

Is this a signal of an open source future of journalistic media? Are we seeing possible new models for public media renewal? Time will tell.

5 thoughts on “Open Source Journalism”

  1. Interesting thoughts about open-source journalism. I think there’s a real danger though that the attractiveness of free content poses to the quality and accuracy of journalism. There’s a reason that there are International Standards developed for news organizations and journalists and without some assurance that all contributors are living up to such standards, there’s a real danger that misinformation could be spread as much as accurate news. Wikipedia is a great example of how a good thing can go horribly wrong – there’s plenty of examples of Wiki-slander, corrected by the person who the article is about, only to be changed the very next day.

    I also wonder who will pay for foreign correspondents? Or will local reporters give a local flavour to each and every story, often tainting their ‘news’ and turning it into gossip or opinion. One might also wonder about corporate influence over ‘independent’ reporters that may or may not be outwardly represented to readers. A journalist is responsible to their news organization, not to any third party.

    As a supplement to major news organizations I think open-source journalism is a great concept but should not be held up as a replacement of traditional media.

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