Karma Peiró, a digital journalist and professor in Barcelona, Spain, interviewed us this week by email for a magazine article she is doing on participatory journalism. This is what we had to say:
1. A year after the publication of We Media, have you received a lot of feedback from mainstream media, and/or readers?
Chris: We have received a tremendous amount of feedback. What has been most surprising is not that We Media has been thought-provoking but that it has actually changed people’s projects or careers in profound ways. It connected with people who see the idea of citizen journalism as more than fad but a calling. Dan Gillmor, for instance, said the “We Media” paper made him rethink how he was writing his book, We the Media. A CNN reporter told us that after reading “We Media,” she decided to quit her job as bureau chief and pursue citizen journalism as a full-time career. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.
Shayne: One of our goals with “We Media” was to create a primer on citizen journalism. If anyone needed a place to start learning about this emergence, we hoped that “We Media” was a good start for them. Much of the feedback we’ve received has been a simple thank you from university professors, who are using it in their classes, or from mainstream media companies who needed their employees to get a basic understanding of citizen journalism. To their credit, several mainstream media companies have made it required reading.
2. Do you think that in the next three years we will see some changes in the ways mainstream media inform their audience?
Chris: “We Media” tries to define what many journalists and media executives have been sensing for sometime — the media world is shifting. What is the most unsettling thing for media professionals is not change but how the change is happening and where it is coming from. Change is not coming from traditional competitors but from the audience they serve. What could be more frightening? These changes have been growing in momentum for some years. Mainstream media now has to make the choice: Embrace their audience as true collaborators or try to save the existing business model.
What few journalists and executives understand is that their audience is motivated to work with them. People are seeking a more intimate relationship with their storytellers — those who help them make sense of the world. They are willing to become actively engaged in the news gathering process. For this effort, they are looking for something remarkably simple, inexpensive and, yet, impossible for many news organizations give in return: Trust.
In the coming years, news organizations will have to figure out how to become equal partners with their readers and viewers. They will have to become better listeners, rather than doing all the talking. They will be the ones being informed, rather than informing. That will be the change.
Shayne: It will not take three years for us to see changes in the ways mainstream media inform their audiences. In the last twelve months, we’ve already seen the seeds of serious change. For example, many of the top media outlets in the United States now provide RSS feeds of their news and information. The speed at which RSS has proliferated is phenomenal. We are also already beginning to see some deeper experimentation from the mainstream media. For example, MSNBC has a page inviting their readers to join them by becoming a citizen journalist. On the night of presidential elections, 4,000 readers filed stories and photos to MSNBC. The results are not earth-shattering, but it’s a good step in the right direction.
Of course, the leadership and innovation of citizen journalism will continue to come from the edges of the new media ecosystem. In the next three years, I think we are more likely to see big media try to purchase and integrate innovation rather than develop it on their own. Big media’s struggle will be innovating their newsroom culture to cope with and support these new approaches to journalism and informing the public.