When The News Lets Everyone Really Participate, It Changes The Way News Works

from the participatory-journalism-is-about-more-than-comments dept

When we talk about things like "participatory journalism," or "news as a community," we've had traditional newspaper people insist they "get it." They say that they've "added comments" to their website, so it's now participatory. But that, of course, is cargo cult participation. They look at sites that have a lively community, and they see comments, so they think "well, if we add comments, we'll have community." They don't bother to understand what actually makes journalism participatory, or what actually brings a real community together.

Clay Shirky has written another of his essays, once again, building on the idea of "cognitive surplus," highlighting the difference between a "pipeline" model of journalism and a true community model. The pipeline model involves passing a story along a pipeline. Someone makes news, someone reports the news, someone edits the news and then everyone consumes the news. But the community model actually involves people who become a part of the story itself, in digging deeper, in adding their own input to the story, in shaping the further story. Shirky provides numerous examples of this, with the following being my favorite:
In 2005, the London transit system was bombed. Sir Ian Blair, the head of London's Metropolitan police, went on radio and TV to announce that the cause had been an electrical failure in the underground. Within minutes of Blair's statements, people began posting and analyzing pictures of a bombed double-decker bus in Tavistock Square, and in less than two hours, there were hundreds of blog posts analyzing this evidence and explicitly contradicting Blair's interpretation.

Seeing this, and overriding the advice of his own communications staff, Blair went on air again less than two hours later to say that it had indeed been a bombing, that the police didn't have all the answers yet, and that he would continue reporting as they knew more. When he spoke to the public, Blair had the power of all the traditional media behind him, but it was clear that merely having a consistent message on every broadcast channel in existence was no longer the same as having control.
This is not about just "adding comments" -- it's about enabling people who have the inclination to actually be a part of the overall process. It's not "the 4th estate" talking down to everyone, but it's about the press enabling those who wish to participate to do so. This doesn't mean that there is no role for traditional journalists or editors or publishers. To the contrary, those roles are still important, but in a different manner.

As Shirky notes, this is a big change that may be difficult for some used to the old "pipeline model" to full grasp. It involves a different conception of what it is a journalism outfit needs to accomplish:
What's going away, from the pipeline model, isn't the importance of news, or the importance of dedicated professionals. What's going away is the linearity of the process, and the passivity of the audience. What's going away is a world where the news was only made by professionals, and consumed by amateurs who couldn't do much to produce news on their own, or to distribute it, or to act on it en masse.

We are living through a shock of inclusion, where the former audience is becoming increasingly intertwined with all aspects of news, as sources who can go public on their own, as groups that can both create and comb through data in ways the professionals can't, as disseminators and syndicators and users of the news.

This shock of inclusion is coming from the outside in, driven not by the professionals formerly in charge, but by the former audience. It is also being driven by new news entrepreneurs, the men and women who want to build new kinds of sites and services that assume, rather than ignore, the free time and talents of the public.

This a change so varied and robust that we need to consider retiring the word "consumer" altogether, and treat consumption as simply one behavior of many that citizens can now engage in. The kinds of changes that are coming will dwarf those we've already seen, as citizen involvement stops being a set of special cases, and becomes a core to our conception of how news can be, and should be, part of the fabric of society.
Until the various media players begin to recognize that participation within journalism isn't about delivering the news, but enabling everyone who wants to to participate, they're going to continue to struggle with the changing marketplace.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    yogi, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 2:28am

    Tofler

    "This a change so varied and robust that we need to consider retiring the word "consumer" altogether"

    I think Alvin Tofler coined the phrase "prosumer" to describe this new type of consumer-who is also-producer. He did that in "The Third Wave" , the book that precisely described this revolution and which was published in the beginning of the 1970s. Apparently no one in the entertainment or news industries (as if there is a difference between them)read the book.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 3:32am

    Where exactly does The Truth enter?

    "enabling everyone who wants to to participate"...

    In the bombing incident, clear and compelling evidence was available right away. But when Bush said Iraq was buying yellow cake, and Rumsfeld said "we know where they are [WMD]", that's not accessible at once nor by the average joe, so how do you think this will work at national scale? -- And when The Truth *is* known years later, and our "leaders" continue on a war of empire, what then?

    I suppose you'll say that participants always automatically seek The Truth, but counter-measures are already begun, such as the Israeli Megaphone project, that need only flood a site and yell to obscure The Truth. I think it likely that some of the 850,000 quasi-gov't spooks the US employs are also engaged in promoting a pro-gov't message.

     

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  3.  
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    Daniel Berninger, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 4:49am

    discussion versus creation

    Clay mentions discussion of stories as one of the existing roles, but he focuses his new paradigm ideas on participatory content creation.

    The existence of techdirt and other venues seem like an example of how the web also transforms the nature of discussion (more than just around the dinner table).

    The propagation of discussion seems like a distinct dynamic, although people discussing a story can become motivated to contribute to a story.

    Maybe there is a continuum of engagement between non-participant and active participant that captures both dynamics.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 5:39am

    This is not only journalism...

    The same phenomenon can also be seen in other areas, like media production, or open source software.

     

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  5.  
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    Nick Coghlan (profile), Nov 10th, 2010 @ 6:03am

    Tiers of participation

    I think one of the key things that needs to be remembered in any participatory model is the concept of 'styles of participation'. When I linked the Shirky article on FB, it came up with a great icon of an outer grey circle of figures holding hands, with a smaller orange circle of figures also holding hands, but the two circles were interlinked rather than having one completely nested inside the other. It illustrates nicely that the ways people participate often don't have nice neat boundaries.

    Here at TD, we obviously have Mike and the Floor64 staff with one style of participating (i.e. writing the actual articles). But even within that group, they vary in how much they participate in the article comment threads.

    Readers can obviously participate by commenting on articles, submitting ideas for new articles, as well as making purchases through the TD CwF+RtB program. But even there, the levels of participation vary - some will comment on almost every article, others only occasionally when they feel they have a novel perspective to add to the discussion.

    Some of us can even make (very mild) pests of ourselves trying to get Mike to interview our favourite webcomic author that we've seen go from a part-time hobbyist to professional artist while supporting a family of 6 in an absolutely picture perfect case of CwF+RtB ;)

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 6:35am

    "They look at sites that have a lively community, and they see comments, so they think "well, if we add comments, we'll have community." They don't bother to understand ..."

    Clearly you are impressed with your ability to identify the specific thoughts of whole groups of people, and you feel you only need to blog your "insights" it to contribute to the "participatory journalism", but this is cargo cult participation and omits the the important step of engaging brain.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 6:37am

    "They look at sites that have a lively community, and they see comments, so they think "well, if we add comments, we'll have community." They don't bother to understand ..."

    Clearly you are impressed with your ability to identify the specific thoughts of whole groups of people, and you feel you only need to blog your "insights" it to contribute to the "participatory journalism", but this is cargo cult participation and omits the the important step of engaging brain.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2010 @ 6:54am

    I was saw in the newspaper about the FBI who put that huge tracking device in someones car. The newspaper clearly copied Internet sources on this and didn't do any of its own investigation. Does anyone say anything? No, of course not. It's OK for them to copy others but it's not OK for others to copy them. Not to mention the newspaper seems to have left things out (they mention his father as a possible reason the FBI went after him, but they don't mention his friend). The Internet gives far more details than the newspaper and it serves to draw a far more accurate picture.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Nov 10th, 2010 @ 7:56am

    Will we see better politics?

    I'm for anything that increases participation, so I am very much in favor of participatory journalism. I am curious, though, whether it will get more people to actually look for facts and then believe them when they and others find them. Although we are living in the age of Internet journalism, we seem to be more polarized than ever. I hope the trend doesn't continue.

    The Big Lie - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan: "It seems to me that the last year or so in America's political culture has represented the triumph of untruth."

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Nov 10th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    Re: Will we see better politics?

    To answer your question "Will we see better politics?"

    "The kinds of changes that are coming will dwarf those we've already seen, as citizen involvement stops being a set of special cases, and becomes a core to our conception ..."

    We are already seeing politicians being stressed by the amount of information available to the general population. It is a trend they don't want to see continue because it scares them. Once someone create a profile site that pulls all the information about politicians in one place. think Opensecrets.org on steroids. With a one page per politician of everything they have voted for, all their earmarks, all the laws and changes to laws they had a hand in, etc, Much like the CIA World Factbook for politician modified by the population at large. Then we will see better politics. Accountability and knowledge is the key.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Nov 10th, 2010 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: Will we see better politics?

    But we are seeing politicians state absolute lies and then have citizens pass along that information. For as much info as is available, we are also seeing the concept of "See it enough times and it must be true."

    Voters voted for politicians who lied. The information was available to them, but they didn't care. They voted based on what they believed. I don't know how one overcomes this. For example, why do 20-30% of the country believe Obama is a Muslim?

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Nov 10th, 2010 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Will we see better politics?

    "Obama is a Muslim"

    I keep hearing that I guess it must be true .... (counter ticks up to 31%)

    "Voters voted for politicians who lied. The information was available to them, but they didn't care. They voted based on what they believed. I don't know how one overcomes this."

    Its important to realize that, its often the way you phrase a question that brings the solution. That determining the goal you are trying to achieve is an important part. Change the question, and goal around.

    How do we disrupt the corporations and individuals that fund the politicians?

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Nov 10th, 2010 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Will we see better politics?

    Let me ask you, do you think we got the best politicians we could have elected? If not, how do we change the system?

    I welcome whatever happens to get the correct information out into the world. But how do we get citizens to pay attention to it? They make up their minds first, then look for confirmation rather than looking for accuracy.

     

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  14.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Nov 11th, 2010 @ 9:44am

    Community in news

    Exactly.
    Recently a bogus "scientific" report acknowledged that older people in the UK were healthier than Americans (which they implied was lifestyle) but Americans live "as long or longer" because of "superior health care".
    UK nearly 80 years, US 78.2; US healthcare lowest of 7 nations in a truly objective study, highest of 7 in cost???
    Yet when I tried to point this out, I was completely blocked.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Nov 14th, 2010 @ 6:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Will we see better politics?

    Here's another article. How do we deal with this? Any suggestions?

    16 of the Dumbest Things Americans Believe -- And the Right-Wing Lies Behind Them | | AlterNet: "So what to do in a political and cultural landscape in which well-told lies have more validity than fact-based truth?"

     

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