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Thoughts

From social networks to social organizations

— Culture & Observations —

A lot has been said in the past few years about the rise of citizen journalism, the democratization of publishing and the boom of social media and their negative effects on the news industry. Of course, many journalists have embraced social networks as a tool for finding sources for articles and even more news outlets have started using Facebook, Twitter and, as of recently, Tumblr in an effort to increase traffic. Many news organizations have incorporated social mechanics and even dynamics, such as comments and blogs, into their websites. Some have gone even further and responded to the digital disruption with open data: USA Today has 8 open APIs and The New York Times has 13; The Guardian has pioneered with an amazing Open Platform. However, few media outlets have incorporated social dynamics into their business and culture. Very few news organizations are social organizations with social cultures, at least among the serious media companies. CNN with its iReport and The New York Times with its collaborative photo blog Lens paved the way, but The Guardian and The Winnipeg Free Press have truly changed their cultures.

On top of everything The Guardian has done in the digital space, two weeks ago it started an incredible experiment in enhancing its social culture and becoming a more social organization. The paper started publishing “a carefully selected portion of the national, international and business newslists” on its daily blog and encouraged people to get in touch with the reporters on Twitter. Anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper, local, regional or national, knows that the newslists are a better kept secret than agencies’ new business plans, for obvious reasons. In a post, Dan Roberts, The Guardian’s national editor, said:

What if readers were able to help newsdesks work out which stories were worth investing precious reporting resources in? What if all those experts who delight in telling us what’s wrong with our stories after they’ve been published could be enlisted into giving us more clues beforehand? What if the process of working out what to investigate actually becomes part of the news itself?

This is an effort that brings news organizations and readers closer and allows citizens to share what the topics they care about are. It also merges the wisdom of the crowd, the democratization of the publishing industry and the resources news organizations have to provide top-notch journalism and news relevant to the community.

Another similar effort in changing corporate culture and opening its doors to the public is The Winnipeg Free Press. The paper has opened a café in the city centre where three of its employees work permanently, giving the public direct open access to journalists and editors. Besides serving as an office space for some of its employees, the café is open daily and hosts special events organized by the newspaper, such as book readings, music gigs, and earlier this month it streamed the live results of the Manitoba election, followed by a Q&A session with café guests and audience members.

Reporter Lindsey Wiebe says “it’s about turning the organization outwards.”

On the one hand, these experiments are making news social again, as it was for most of human history. On the other hand, The Guardian and The Winnipeg Free Press showcase that being social requires more than just pushing content on social networks but also being social organizations online and offline.

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Posted by Jigsaw