The Guardian newsroom is trying to turn the journalistic model on its head, allowing its audience to help contribute to the production of news stories.
It means, mainly, that reporters keep readers informed at every step along the way – usually over Twitter – as they develop stories.*
* See the Guardian’s Open Journalism section, which tells people how to get involved in the news process
It also means that every morning the paper posts its news list, that traditionally secret inventory of stories it’s working on for the following day’s paper. So if a reader has information that might help advance a story, they know how to pass it on. On Wednesday, the paper was working on a story about payday loans, and asked readers to fill out a confidential form on its website with details of their own payday loans.
This is tough. Most journalists believe secrets are the currency of their trade. In some newsrooms, reporters don’t even share information with their colleagues.
Many newspapers are gently experimenting with open journalism, but The Guardian has made it the house religion. Last week, it also sought to make open journalism a central part of its brand, with a flashy two-minute TV ad that reimagined the Three Little Pigs fable as a contemporary news story that develops with the help of social media.
The Globe story notes the Guardian’s success with crowdsourcing in the British MPs’ expenses scandal, but adds that the phone-hacking stories initially targeting the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World was strictly old-skool reportage.
Along with asking for help on reportage or telling you how the news is going, the Guardian is open to you helping distribute its content. It’s too exhaustive to describe, but check out the Open Platform section.
J-Source recently ran two articles on this:
- March 2 – Guardian’s Open Journalism approach to collaboration goes beyond Canadian experience
- March 4 – Time to give up on newspapers, says MacPhail
I’ll try to address points raised in them later.
Responding to the J-Source articles
A point ignored by both Rob Washburn and Wayne MacPhail, who authored the above articles, is that the Guardian is operated as a trust. It doesn’t have to make a profit.
More to the point, its losses are subsidized.
As I’ve long argued, if all one has to do is spend money and not make any, you can operate one hell of a website.
Washburn concluded with the following:
Journalism in the 20th century was based mainly on models where a journalist’s job was to inform, explain and interpret. It has changed. For now and in the future, a journalist should educate, engage and empower people, just as the Guardian has chosen to do.
But what about the money that for-profit businesses must make in order to survive? Washburn didn’t address the issue of whether this open journalism model will lead to greater profitability for news organizations.
MacPhail had this to say:
And, while I’m heartened to see Open Journalism principles being adopted by The Guardian, it is as much an industry outlier as a banker who shows up to work in cargo pants and Tommy Bahamas prints.
So, I’ve given up on newspapers. Back in the days when I worked in newsrooms, and later, when I spoke about what was coming, I cared about newspapers a lot. I loved them. I don’t love them anymore. If I’m honest, I don’t even much care for them. I love great stories, I love good long form journalism. I’m seeing that work come from elsewhere now, a science journalism startup MATTER being a recent, Kickstarter-funded example. I backed MATTER with my own money. I bet on it. With the exception of the Guardian, there’s no other paper I’d do the same for right now. And I’m sorry, newspapers, but it’s not me, it’s you.
MacPhail doesn’t much like the mainstream media at the best of times (the left-lib Guardian is probably the English-language title closest to his personal leanings). However, in some ways, his frustration with the slow pace of change is quite justified.
But if one’s newspaper is still profitable, that buys time in shifting the business model. What MacPhail in particular seems to be saying is that economically and creatively, every paper should be like the Guardian.
Unfortunately, the Guardian, for all the innovative things it does, does not make money. If it can solve that problem and show how its innovations can lead to to economically sustainable journalism, it will be a much better model for the profit-driven side of the industry to follow.