We’ve just posted “Frontiers of Innovation in Community Engagement” — a report that looks at how traditional media organizations are starting to involve their audiences in the journalism process.
Here’s the executive summary:
As traditional journalism organizations move onto the Web, they are learning to do more than re-publish the work they’ve printed or broadcast. The first forays into conversational journalism were blogs written by staff members, a genre now so widespread that it’s getting difficult to find a news organization without staff blogs.
Less common, but becoming more so, is giving the audience an opportunity to comment on the journalism on the organization’s own website. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters using this technique have done so gingerly, for the most part, because they’ve worried that comments could (and some have) turn into a free-for-all that annoys readers instead of generating useful conversations.
A very few have tried experiments such as wikis, web pages that anyone can edit. (In one famous debacle, the Los Angeles Times abandoned a wiki editorial that collapsed largely due to the newspaper’s mismanagement of the experiment.)
This report looks at the first generation of traditional-media innovators in the arena of community engagement: bringing the community into the journalism itself, beyond blogs and comments.
What They’re Doing
There appear to be four primary approaches to opening the newsgathering process to “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.”1
* “User generated content” (UGC): People are encouraged to post their own material, such as stories, photos and event listings.
* Blog hub: Participants are able to submit stories, photos, and event listings, but they get their own weblog with a unique Web address on the news organization’s site.
* Community hub: Often incorporating the elements above, these sites also offer social networking — connecting participants to each other.
* Newsroom transparency: The news organization opens a window into its news-production process, helping the audience to understand — and weigh in on — what the editorial staff is doing.
Why They’re Doing It
News organizations have many motives for these moves. Some are mostly financial. But there are valid journalistic reasons as well.
* As traditional news organizations lose audience and advertising, growing an online audience is essential, and audience participation is essential.
* News organizations believe they can save money through user-generated content. (We consider this more wishful thinking than anything else.)
* Bringing the audience — the community — into the process has enormous value for the journalism itself. In particular, the community will be better informed, and the news organization’s ties to the community will be reinforced.
* Success is not highly correlated with large technology expenditures or major shifts in staffing. It takes patience, follow-through, and iterative experimentation
* Sites that blend the contributions of professionals and community members were more successful than those that didn’t, in part because having new content, consistently and from day one, was so important.
* Formal and informal social networking – through profiles, comments, and unique pages featuring the contributions of a single user – helped communities thrive by rewarding peer-to-peer interaction and enabling users to develop a track record of contributions visible to staffers and other community members.
* Experiment and take risks. Make risk-taking part of the newsroom and business cultures of the organization.
* Make technological flexibility a priority. Favor experimentation and iteration over roadmaps and grand strategy.
* Approach community building with confidence, teamwork, and appropriate expectations.