By now, we’re all familiar with the reality that anyone can take on the role of online reporter at any time. This is also referred to as citizen journalism. What’s new is that professional journalists are soliciting help from their readership when writing articles, and this is largely where journalism will be headed in the future.
Journalism has been struggling for a long time, and has found itself competing with anyone with a smart phone. The public’s trust in objective reporting is also at an all-time low. America’s 2016 presidential election was a stark reminder of how easily fake news can go viral. Manipulated images, indistinguishable from the real thing, spread like wildfire thanks to social media. Although eventually it will usually come to light that the photos are fake, by that time it’s often too late and the damage has already been done.
Plenty of attempts are being made to turn this tide right here in the Netherlands. A good example of this is De Correspondent, which publishes high-quality, ad-free articles online daily. Membership costs 6 euros a month and provides access to the entire archive. De Correspondent attracts a niche audience which is willing to pay for good stories.
A similar revenue model is used by Follow The Money. For 8 euros a month you can become a member and gain access to all their content. What these two platforms have in common is that they serve a very clearly defined group of readers. This ‘community’ is likely made up of people who identify ideologically with the journalists writing the articles. These readers also want to be informed about the world in an authentic and honest way. Keeping this in mind, it seems like a shame that readers have limited involvement in the creation of the articles.
Yournalism is a Dutch journalism startup that want to take things a step further. What they do is crowdsource the initial editorial question, which means that if you want to read more about a subject or highlight an issue, Yournalism allows you to submit a proposal. Your idea will then be assessed against criteria such as feasibility, urgency and public interest. If it has potential, the platform will get a journalist to get to work on it. Readers can also pose additional questions to the journalist once the story is finished.
A platform like Hearken is very similar to this, although it places the ball in the journalist’s court to start. Journalists pitch their story ideas to a group of readers. These readers vote on the journalists’ ideas and can then help develop the story by sharing their thoughts in an interactive notebook. Both types of platform closely involve the readership in the creation process. Compare this to most traditional journalism, which limits readers’ involvement to the comment section after publication.
One advantage of this kind of system is an increased level of ownership among your readership. In addition, the community will likely put more effort into promoting your article, since they have a stake in it. And, as in any online community, you gain free insight into what your readers wants:
- What kind of content are they interested in?
- Which journalists do they like?
- What are their favorite subjects?
The journalist is however ultimately responsible. The public is only involved in aspects where it is beneficial to have extra sets of eyes: selection and fine-tuning of the article.
The Wikitribune project also gives the community a stage far beyond the comment section. Its founder, Jimmy Wales (of Wikipedia fame), thinks there is a serious problem with the news. He believes that the community at large has a responsibility to verify the facts, sources and propositions presented in journalistic output. It is his experience that this community is at least as important as the writer. This is of course very reminiscent of Wikipedia, which relies on a large audience to fact-check its content. Wikitribune really does democratize the journalistic process.
The Coral Project
Good initiatives rarely stand alone. The Coral Project is another initiative which is on a quest to revitalize journalism. Some of the ways in which they are doing this are scientific research, events and new software. One of their software products is called Talk. This open-source software aims to make the comment section a better place. Research carried out by The Coral Project among frequent commenters on news websites showed some of the things these people were looking for:
- A diversity of viewpoints
- A sense of community
- Reciprocity and respect
Due to a lack of technology and moderation, these are precisely the elements which are all too often missing in comment sections. Have a look at any news website, and you’ll be bombarded with torrents of abuse and insults. This is why many news websites, at a complete loss, simply close the comments, which is a shame. The Coral Project is hoping to change all this with its new software.
With this range of initiatives, it seems that quality journalism is having somewhat of a revival. Ultimately, technology alone is not the answer; the proof of the pudding is in how journalists use the technology. If they are prepared to truly open up their work to the public at large, there may be a bright future ahead.