Guardian's Open Journalism approach to collaboration goes beyond Canadian experience
By Robert Washburn
The Guardian’s launch of its Open Journalism approach this week with the innovative, witty Three Pigs advertisement also ushers in a powerful endorsement of the collaborative approach to producing news.
Certainly, there are major Canadian newsrooms taking on aspects of collaborative journalism: the CBC community, submitted photos and video features on numerous newsroom websites, Twitter accounts for every journalist, live blogs and so forth. There is no question aspects of audience interaction exist. And these platforms and tools are a growing part of the Canadian news landscape.
None of these initiatives are as comprehensive or as bold as the Guardian. The Open Journalism page on its website is filled with engaging features. The Newsdesk live section is a space where the national news team breaks down the news, explains why a particular story or stories were chosen for coverage. Rarely is this kind of transparency seen elsewhere. It invites participation in a section called Reality Check, where people can suggest stories on specific investigative stories, offering ideas where the journalists can improve the coverage. This is not the same as the usual “send-us-your-story-ideas” link. It is specific and provokes a response, mainly because the subject matter is provocative.
There are numerous examples of places where people can participate ranging from submitting music favourites to discussion on sports to listing pet peeves and so on.
However, it is the MP expenses story where you see the boldness of this concept. When the British parliament released its expense reports containing thousands of pages, the Guardian set up a widget allowing people to take a portion of the report and file information back to the newsroom. Call it citizen journalism or pro/am journalism or whatever moniker fits, but it was a unique approach practiced on a very large scale. It is hard to imagine major Canadian newsroom taking this kind of approach. With some large newspapers considering the installation of paywalls in the upcoming months, it is hard to think they are creating a culture of engagement.
Yet, it is this kind of innovative approach that truly capitalizes strengths of journalism online. It acknowledges the advances in software and hardware to consume and distribute news on new platforms. It also appreciate the new culture of this environment where information is provided and people take part in the process of journalism, as editor Alan Rusbridger says. It places journalists in partnership with the audience, no longer the elite purveyors of news. The invisible power relationships are gone.
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.