Chapter 1: Introduction to participatory journalism
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Willis and Bowman start with the beginnings of personalization online. While
companies were at one time hesitant and worried about allowing readers to choose what news they were interested in, a lot of the big players
now let readers customize their information experience, at least online. Is personalization, though, the be all and end all for participatory journalism? Watts Wacker says no when it comes to making consumer decisions. Will people wanting more 'perspective' also apply those feelings to the news/information world? Wacker says to find out you must find the people who use future news today - that is, the early adopters.
Willis and Bowman go on to bring up OhMyNews.
(On a side note, it's interesting that OhMyNews is not only still
around, it's making money.) They wonder if "The Daily Me" is being
replaced by "The Daily We." For perhaps the first time in journalism's history, not only is it threatened by competitors and new technology, but readers are also a new force to be reckoned with, a new part of the equation.
Next is the rise in power of weblogs. They say blogs are the most visible form of citizens, the readers, getting into the
information game. As the technological requirements for blogging are lowered, more people are doing it. They also note that blogs (often)
attract very focused niche audiences (Jay Small has some thoughts on this.)
Blogs aren't the only way citizens are taking an active interest in journalism, though, as witnessed by increased activity in forums,
newsgroups and chatrooms. Willis and Bowman define participatory
act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the
process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and
information. The intent of this participation is to provide
independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information
that a democracy requires.
See Graphic for bottom-up news...
Participatory journalism is a bottom-up, emergent phenomenon in
which there is little or no editorial oversight or formal journalistic
workflow dictating the decisions of a staff. Instead, it is the result
of many simultaneous, distributed conversations that either blossom or
quickly atrophy in the Web's social network.
The authors mention that the idea of inviting readers to participate
isn't new - that in the early 90s, the whole civic journalism meme
was very popular. According to a report by Pew, "at
least 20 percent of the 1,500 daily U.S. newspapers practiced some form
of civic journalism between 1994 and 2001. Nearly all said it had a
positive effect on the community."
While civic journalism is similar to participatory journalism, it still relies heavily on the idea
that journalists should have the most control over the content and
process, that they're the most integral part of the equation. Even so, most modern ideas of participatory journalism strive to take the
best from civic journalism. Namely, the idea that a conversation between readers and journalists is important.
From the report:
there has been a period of significant, social, economic and
technological change, a transformation in news occurred. This happened
in the 1830s-40s with the advent of the telegraph; the 1880s with a
drop in paper prices and a wave of immigration; the 1920s with radio
and the rise of gossip and celebrity culture; the 1950s at the onset of
the Cold War and television.
Whatever started it, Journalism is at a crossroads. I've said it before
and I'll say it again - it's an exciting time to be a journalist, no
matter which side of the battlefield you're on.
The arrival of cable, followed by the Internet and mobile
technologies, has brought the latest upheaval in news. And this time,
the change in news may be even more dramatic. Kovach and Rosenstiel
explain, "For the first time in our history, the news increasingly is
produced by companies outside journalism, and this new economic
organization is important. We are facing the possibility that
independent news will be replaced by self-interested commercialism
posing as news."
Willis and Bowman then go into the definitions of journalist. They talk about the revulsion on both sides of the fence - of MSM journalists for bloggers and that of bloggers for mainstream media. One interesting point they bring up about bloggers is that editorial judgement happens after the fact, not before. Is that necessarily a bad
See Graphic on newsfiltering and fact checking in the new media ecosystem...
Being Digital ( Nicholas Negroponte, 1995)
The Promise of the Daily Me (JD Lasica, OJR, 4/2/2002)
The Deviant's Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Watts Wacker, 2002)
Citizen Reporters Make the News - ( Leander Kahney at Wired, 2003)
The Elements of Journalism : What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect (Bill Kovach and Tom Rodenstiel 2002)
News Values : Ideas for an Information Age - (Jack Fuller, 1997)
Journalistic Pivot Points - (Dan Gillmor, 2002)
Chapter 2: Cultural context - Behind the explosion of participatory media
When the telegraph was invented, newspapermen of the time saw their eventual
doom. It didn't happen, but it's getting closer to a time when
'news' printed on paper is going to be of less value than that
delivered by other mediums, specifically the Internet, the combination
of the other mediums into one.
Newspapers in the past have
always managed to survive when new technology came along. Unlike the
telegraph and other technological inventions, though, the Internet is a
bigger force to deal with. It's adapt or die. And so far,
traditional media haven't adapted very well. Willis and Bowman say that
the Internet will change journalism fundamentally, but they aren't sure how far that change will go.
In this chapter, they go into social networks, how we as humans
communicate. And as I was telling my former journalism prof the other day,
the social networks of teenagers today are even stronger because they
have so many methods to keep in touch and communicate with their
They cover a lot of the tremendous growth of the Internet in a mere 10 years, with a brief history of the Internet.
See Graphic of Internet Backbone traffic growth, 1990 - 2002...
The authors continue with what they call the
post-information age, noting that objectivity may be one casualty as
people rely on getting their 'news and information' from people second
and third hand. Yes, credibility is still important, but objectivity
may not be as important as it once was. Subjectivity will have a role in the new journalism.
Willis and Bowman wrote:
In their book Information Rules,
Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian suggest an altogether new axiom for the
news business and its future. "The old industrial economy was driven by
economies of scale; the new information economy is driven by the
economics of networks."That's the $64k question - will old media (again) be
able to adapt enough to survive in the changing landscape? I'm not so
sure. Old media has a great business sense, but all too often the
businessmen (suits, beancounters, etc.) are the ones calling the shots.
This isn't necessarily a good thing for journalism, especially when the
landscape, the battlefield, is evolving as fast as it is.
Indeed, our traditional notions of economics are being disrupted and
transformed by the power of distributed collaboration through our
The network economy and the proliferation of media are
presenting a tremendous challenge for mainstream media organizations,
such as newspapers, radio and television. Not only will they have to
adapt organizationally, and perhaps philosophically, but their
products, over time, will be transformed in unexpected and unforeseen
Connection Age - (Groove Networks, 2001)
Smart Mobs: Computation Nations and Swarm Supercomputers - (Howard Rheingold, 2002)
Chapter 3: How participatory journalism is taking form
Willis and Bowman point out that since the beginning of the Internet, participation has been a large, fundamental component.
With that in mind, they take a look at some of the current forms of participatory journalism.
They talk about discussion groups (one of the oldest forms of
online community), user-generated content, weblogs, collaborative
publishing, peer-to-peer, and XML syndication. The question of open
versus closed then comes up. That is, how much can people contribute.
For this, they define it in four different models: open communal, open
exclusive, closed and partially closed.
Personally, I like the first - open communal communities. I see K5 as one of the best examples of this form - proof that it can work. (More on this in another article...)
Finally, in this chapter they go over the different forms of
participation that can happen at sites, including: commentary,
filtering and editing, fact-checking, grassroots reporting, annotative
reporting, open-source reporting and peer review, audio/video
broadcasting, buying, selling and advertising, and knowledge management.
All of these are important roles citizens can play in any grassroots journalism project. Go read them more in depth.
Broadcast Institutions, Community Values - (Clay Shirky, 2002)
Community-friendly advertising - (Derek M. Powazek, 2002)
Top Ten Trends for Online Communities - (Jim Cashel, 2002)
Symbiotic Media - (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, 2002)
Puzzling Out Google's Blogger Acquisition - (Chris Sherman, 2003)
Here Comes 'We Media' - (Dan Gillmor, 2003)
Chapter 4: The rules of participation
Willis and Bowman wrote:
organizations and businesses to understand how to engage their
empowered audience, we must consider what motivates the audience to
take on their new roles and what kinds of rules yield the most fruitful
participation. Finally, we look at reputation systems and the balance
of trust that's struck between buyers and sellers or content creators
and their online peers.
This is a very important piece of the puzzle. On the one hand,
you want to encourage people to participate. On the other hand, you
don't want participation just for participation's sake. That is, you
want the citizens to add valuable content.
So, why do people participate in online communities? (This, again,
is a question that has come up again and again recently - how to get
people to continue participating...)
See Graphic of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in Online Communities...
Why are citizens motivated to contribute? To gain status or build
reputation in a given community; to create connections with others who
have similar interests, online and off; sense-making and understanding;
to inform and be informed; to entertain and be entertained; to create.
Willis and Bowman say the first may be the biggest influencer
in getting people to participate - ego. That is, knowing that a lot of
people look to them as an expert in any one field. The thing with
traditional journalists is that while some may have a specialty, most
have a very shallow understanding of a lot of various topics. By
inviting 'amateurs' into the mix, journalism gains better access to lots of experts that
can sound-off on various issues.
For the second reason, they admit that a lot of information on
the internet is junk, so called noise, but people need to understand
that what is noise for one person is signal for other people.
Grassroots journalism offers the ability for people interested in a
niche to reach out and communicate with others that share their
interests. This fact alone will get people to contribute.
As for the third reason - a lot of people see traditional media
as so much spin. Sure, they're going to get spin in online
communities as well, but it's from their peers rather than people
(journalists) who think they're above and better than the common man.
People will contribute to help put the pieces of the puzzle together
for themselves and, in doing so, they'll be helping other people as
The fifth reason, to entertain and be entertained, shouldn't be taken lightly either. Willis and Bowman wrote:
According to the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto,
the Web is not a natural vehicle for prepackaged entertainment. "Unlike
the lockstep conformity imposed by television, advertising and
corporate propaganda, the Net has given new legitimacy -- and freedom --
to play. Many of those drawn into this world find themselves exploring
a freedom never before imagined: to indulge their curiosity, to debate,
to disagree, to laugh at themselves, to compare visions, to learn, to
create new art, new knowledge."
If it's seen as 'fun' and not work, people will voluntarily participate.
Online participation is simply fun -- whether a political riff by a
deeply committed weblogger, a casual forum discussion, or a one-off
album review posted on Amazon. As futurist Paul Saffo notes, "In the
end, much of what passes for communications actually has a high
entertainment component. The most powerful hybrid of communications and
entertainment is 'particitainment' -- entertaining communications that
connects us with some larger purpose or enterprise."
Finally, the simple act of creation is a big part of why people will
participate. By creation, one gains self-esteem, which, hopefully, will
get people to continue to participate even more.
The last section of this chapter deals with another big topic -
moderation. With anonymity, people tend to 'let loose' and say and type
things they'd never say to other people in person or if other people
knew their real names. (I believe here we call that the blackboard effect.) In old media models, this wasn't a problem
because a system existed where editors, down a chain-of-command, looked
over all content that was published. With the changing landscape,
though, new rules need to be formed for content that is published.
This is a real tricky part to Participatory Journalism. In my experience on a newspaper forum, you have to walk a fine line
between letting things go and clamping down. If you give the readers
too much freedom, they'll abuse it and see how far they can 'take it'
before there are any consequences. On the other hand, if you clamp down
too tightly, people will be less apt to participate. The magic is in
finding a good medium between the two extremes.
Willis and Bowman go into great detail about different types of
policing that happen in online communities. This is probably one of the
more important sections of 'We Media.' Instead of dissecting it,
though, I'll let you go read what they've come up with. Read it slow.
Read it carefully. It's important.
Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities - (Amy Jo Kim, 2000)
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution - (Howard Rheingold, 2002)
Virtual Connections: Community Bonding on the Net - (Stuart Golgoff, 2001)
Online Communities: Networks that nurture long-distance relationships and local ties - (John Horrigan, 2001)
How Weblogs Can Turn an Idea into an Epidemic - (John Hiler, 2002)
Unleashing the Idea Virus - (Seth Godin, 2002)
Consumers and Interactive New Media: A Hierarchy of Desires - (Paul Saffo, 1992)
Reputation Systems: Facilitating Trust in Internet Interactions - (Paul Resnick, Richard Zeckhauser, Eric Friedman and Ko Kuwabara, 2000)
Chapter 5: Implications for media and journalism
Lots of good lines in this chapter:
To say that media will undergo a "paradigm shift" might be an understatement.
Again, though, go read the whole thing. ;)
That's a revolution already underway, but it's one that's easy
to miss. It's quiet. Revolutions on the Net happen at the edges, not at
A.J. Liebling once said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Now, millions do.
A democratized media challenges the notion of the institutional
press as the exclusive, privileged, trusted, informed intermediary of
In a digital medium, reputations form through a synthesis of consistency, accuracy and frequent comparison by the reader.
Citizens are also taking up a media watchdog role when it comes
to chronicling perceived evidence of the news media's political bias,
censorship or reporting inaccuracies.
The assembly-line nature of broadcast and print media is not
well-suited to developing content for smaller, more targeted audiences.
Content will likely be published in a more continuous manner by teams
or communities acting as an extention of the enterprise. Eventually,
licensing and copyright policies will need to be reexamined to come
into harmony with a collaborative audience model.
Arrogance and aloofness are deadly qualities in a collaborative
environment. To be successful, reporters will need to be more than
skilled writers. They will have to hone their skills in growing
communities around specific topics of interest.
Universities will also need to shape their journalism curricula
to help students prepare for working in this new media ecosystem and
the fast-changing tools needed. (NOTE: I imagine that the 'top journo
schools' of the future will be the ones that take this to heart....)
Increasingly, audiences are becoming stakeholders in the news
process. Rather than passively accepting news coverage decided upon by
a handful of editors, they fire off emails, post criticism of perceived
editorial shortcomings on weblogs and in forums, and support or fund an
independent editorial enterprise.
Brain Trust: Mining the Community Mind - (Sylvia Lacock Marino, 2001)
Hartford Paper Tells Employee to Kill Blog - (Carl Sullivan, 2003)
Kevin Sites and the Blogging Controversy - (Susan Mernit, 2003)
RIP THE CONSUMER, 1900-1999 - (Clay Shirky, 2000)
The Second Coming of Personalized News - (JD Lasica, 2002)
Random acts of journalism - (JD Lasica, 2003)
Where Net Luminaries Turn For News - (JD Lasica, 2002)
Chapter 6: Potential benefits of We Media
Willis and Bowman say, and I agree, that participatory
journalism isn't going away anytime soon. Participation has been part
of the 'net for the last 30 years. In this chapter, the authors look at
why traditional media companies should embrace the future instead of
For one, communication, starting a conversation with the
audience, goes a long way in rebuilding the trust that citizens have in
media. And the reasons for building the trust should go far above and
beyond just the survival of the company. Participatory journalism
gives old media one more chance to re-connect with their audience. I
seriously have to wonder if reconnecting (other than with the readers'
pocket books) is important to big media, though.
Willis and Bowman wrote:
magazine media critic James Poniewozik explains how this is possible,
when he describes the perception gap between the audience and the media
about trust. "Journalists think trust equals accuracy. But it's about
much more: passion, genuineness, integrity." Honest conversation and
passionate collaboration could instill respect and trust into the
relationship between both parties.
Also, old media wants to know how to reach the younger market - the elusive 18-34 year olds? Well, participation is the key.
Involving an audience, either small or large, in the creation of
content also gives them a sense of ownership -- an affinity with the
media brand that they believe they are not getting today -- as well as a
more intimate relationship with the storytellers.
"Kids today expect to interact with their
media," according to Steve Outing, a senior editor at the Poynter
Institute for Media Studies, and an interactive media columnist for
Editor & Publisher Online. "From playing interactive online games,
to using instant messenger (IM) services to communicate with friends,
to interacting with their television (by having control over when
programs are watched, and skipping commercials with devices like TiVo
and ReplayTV), today's kids expect their media to offer a two-way
street of communication."
I couldn't agree with this more. I mean, how can you fail to realize that if you look at how teenagers communicate these days?
"A safe assumption is that when today's children and teenagers
reach adulthood, they'll not be tolerant of media that's one-way,
that's not interactive. They expect to be able to manipulate media
content, and to share it with others. The one-way conversation of a
printed newspaper won't do -- thus print's prospects for the young
digital generation are not promising. Newspaper Web sites and other
newspaper digital media formats likewise cannot afford to perpetuate
the one-way model. They've got to become more interactive."
Again from 'We Media':
media companies have viewed the concept of online community no
differently than a section of a newspaper (à la Letters to the Editor)
or a segment of a newscast. It is something that has been segregated
from the news -- a closed-off annex where readers can talk and discuss,
as long as the media companies don't have to be too involved. Such an
architected virtual space is not a true online community. Real
communities have leaders, moderators and involved participants who care
about their space.
This is a big problem that I've seen first hand. There's no money in
'forums and communities' so very little (if any) resources are given to
those areas. And yet, ironically, community is the future - without
community, media companies will find it difficult to survive in the changing media landscape.
Participatory journalism helps develop real community around
reporters, stories, and the media company's brand experience. With a
weblog, for example, a reporter has a place to extend reporting,
interact with readers, exercise personal conscience, and share some
level of personality that might be absent from his "unbiased" reports.
These are elements that attract real community.
The media titans still don't get it - (Scott Rosenberg, 2002)
Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web - (David Weinberger, 2003)
Amazoning The News - (Ellen Kampinsky, Shayne Bowman, Chris Willis, 2001)
Newspapers: Don't Blow It Again - (Steve Outing, 2002)
Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means - (Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, 2003)
Well, there you have it, my quick overview of Willis and
Bowman's great work on participatory journalism. You really should go
and read the entire thing on your own, especially if you care, at all,
about the future of news. Journalism as conversation is the future.
Adapt or die.
And, yes, the revolution will be blogged...