Daily Archives: December 12, 2011

What open source can teach open journalism

Faced with continuing disruptions to the way that information is collected, shared and published, foundations, academics and media companies are all looking for better answers about the future of news. One rich source of ideas that some would tap lie in the history and culture open source software.

This evening at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., two

Melanie Sill, journalism executive in residence at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, talked about her new paper about “open journalism. Following Sill, George Washington University professor Nicki Usher talked about she envisages that relationship of open source software and culture to this idea of open journalism. Notably, the principles that both aspired to for open journalism in a networked society have much in common with those expressed in the open government movement.

According to Sill, “open journalism” is:

Transparent
Who are we? what do we do? How can you check our work?

Responsive
That means that sites include options to comments or requests to follow: do you reply? What value do you show you place in the time or opinion of the reader?

Accountable
If readers try to find who’s in charge, how to report an error, or how to give a tip to a media outlet, how easy is it to do?

Participatory
Amongst journalists, sources, contributors. in open journalism, participation is part of what they do, not an add-on. Participatory journalism is part of the working day. It’s not relegated to a ‘user-generated content’ area bolted on to another part of the site.

Networked
Open journalism links out. It establishes journalists as active participants in a universe of information sharing.

Sill says that media organizations need to break old way of one-way patterns. Social media offers new opportunities and changes expectations of journalists. People need simple ways — better reader interfaces – to contribute to the work of journalists, quoting Jay Rosen, a process that she said will improve the quality of the work.

Sill asserted that increasing understanding of what it takes to create quality journalism can build public support for it. She also sees promise in ‘digital first’ newsrooms, examples of which she cited in her reports.

We have to go beyond simply implementing new production routines, suggested Sill, building ideas of relationship and connection into the process of newsgathering, thereby becoming less insular and more outwardly focused.

How open source relates to open journalism

Usher gives shoutouts to HacksHackers, Newsfoo, Knight, Google, Mozilla and other organizations experimenting with open source software, including several of the winners of the Knight News Challenge and the growing ‘newsroom stack.

News is suddenly an interesting ‘problem space’ to hackers, says Usher. One of the things that open source begins with is “scratching an itch.” There are misconceptions — that open source has has to be noncommercial or without leadership. Open source is not just about code or hackers, says Usher. It’s about ideas and culture. Usher organizes her metaphor around 4 elements:

Transparency – bug tracking is a lot like fact checking, in this sense. Usher suggests thinking of hackers not as criminals but thinking differently about them as people as obsessed with sharing information. In the larger sense, sharing info for great good. Usher thinks it would be helpful for people to see stories as reported, as a way of transparency leads to loyalty.

Tinkering – Usher suggests privileging play & experimentation, process vs product, embracing playfulness, remixing, experimenting, doing good. Journalism could do with a little more tinkering and less “complete reinvention.”

Iteration – there’s a spirit of continual release in open source and technology, says Usher. Think of journalism as iteration, she says. She’s heard the tropes heard again and again: idea that journalism needs to be a lot more like Silicon Valley. The reason we hear that is that in Silicon Valley, companies are allowed to fail. That’s part of the culture there: it’s OK in journalism too, says Usher. Newsrooms have been for a long time afraid of failure. Instead of “reinventing the newsroom,” take small pieces at a time and reorient workflow.

Participation – for open source projects to succeed, they need to get as many people involved as possible. Usher suggests thinking of journalism in the ethic of participation. Instead of opening up journalism as just a service, she says we need to make people part of the process. Open source brings people together in a way that distributes their intelligence, so that they can construct collaborative frameworks.

When you’re participating, have to feel like what you’re participating counts. Open source platforms fail without participation, Usher says. The same is true of open journalism.

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