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Hypergene MediaBlog » Engaging online communities before publishing the news
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Engaging online communities before publishing the news

Media organizations excel at story starting. Traditionally, the conversation , online or off, usually begins with the publication or broadcast of stories. However, the Internet affords us the opportunity to engage the audience in conversation during the reporting process, prepublication/broadcast. There is building evidence to show that the audience is willing and eager to participate.

In the latest issue of Jim Cashel’s wonderful bi-monthly newsletter Online Community Report, we found a whitepaper Personal knowledge publishing and its uses in research from Sebastien Paquet at the University of Montreal. This paper furthers ideas of audience participating in the process of journalism.

In a section defining the functions of weblogs, Paquet echoes Shirky’s comparison that traditional media “filter, then publish”, while weblogs “publish, then filter”. Paquet observes “It is important to note that this filtering is a post-publication process, in sharp contrast to traditional publishing, where some content is culled at the source, never to be seen by anyone other than the editors. Thus this process can produce obscurity, but not censorship.”

Other sections of this paper substantiate the theory that weblogs and online communities can serve as a model for peer review and community feedback - “Personal knowledge publishing appears as a direct descendant of traditional scholarly prepublication.” Noted by Mark Deuze in his insightful paper about online journalism, some media outlets have taken a similar open-source, peer-review approach to publishing and reporting. Deuze writes, “The Internet as it wires millions of individuals as potential information experts into a global communications infrastructure provides an ideal platform for improving journalism by incorporating the expertise of people ‘outside of the Rolodex’.”

This is the same strategy advocated by journalist Dan Gillmor at the San Jose Mercury News. In a 2001 ONA panel, Gillmor explains “I put up on my weblog a note saying “I’m working on the following topic, here’s what I know, here’s what I think I know’ and ask readers to tell me if I’m full of it or I’m right, and what I haven’t thought of and they tell me and then I do a better column as a result.”

Gillmor’s approach is a collaborative and democratic process, in the “social equality” sense of the word. His online community choses (or elects) him as a broadcast voice of their mutually owned news and information. This potentially increases the stakes of what he writes, for if he fails the community one-too-many times, he and his offline publication run the risk of alienating not only valued resources but audience as well.

As we have previously noted, this suggests that media organizations can no longer just be the ‘big mouth’, they also have to be the ‘big ear’.

Also: While the bulk of Paquet’s paper focuses on personal knowledge management, it affords an interested media organization insight into the value and relevance weblogs provide to their community of readers.

Posted on Oct 17, 2002 | 12:04 pm EST

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