The Open Newsroom: the crucial difference between tools and method

Newsroom in Berdsk.

Newsroom in Berdsk, workshop co-facilitator Charles Maynes is on the left.

Should a newsroom be totally open? As in ‘tell everyone in real-time what you’re discussing and doing’? I don’t think so. Investigative reporting for instance needs discretion, and sources do not always want to be in the open. However, there are also less convincing reasons for keeping the doors – physically and virtually – closed, such as ‘we can’t let the competition know what we’re planning’. In general, I believe newsrooms should be far more open than they are now.

Why? Because right now, people don’t trust journalists. Whether it’s in Russia or in the United States, media are regarded with suspicion. What are the hidden agendas? How independent are newsrooms? Telling the world ‘outside’ about news projects, from the very beginning (even right from the brainstorming phase) can improve the reputation of news services.

It’s not just a reputation issue. A lot of innovation in countless industries is taking place at the intersection of the digital and the physical world. It’s in that ‘mixed reality’ that journalists can experiment with crowdsourcing, data-gathering, networking with external coders etc. Having a more open newsroom facilitates all that.

The New Journalist’s Full Circle presentation I included in a previous blogpost points out in some detail which tools to use and which methodology to follow in order to benefit from an Open Newsroom approach.

The Eurasia Foundation gave me the opportunity to discuss these ideas with journalists in Russia. I worked with a local newspaper in Siberia, Kurer-Sreda, which reports diligently about local news in Berdsk.

The journalists had a very natural reaction when I presented the Full Circle tools: they pick and choose. They won’t use that particular social bookmark tool, but they will consider using some visualization tool or maybe some chat and video-streaming tools. I get the same reaction in my own newsroom and during other workshops.

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

It’s totally okay to pick and choose, and in the Russian case there is an additional element: it simply isn’t true that English is universally spoken. Non-Russian interfaces can be a considerable hurdle. Furthermore, Facebook and Google are global companies, but in huge countries such as Russia there are strong local competitors: VKontakte is an alternative for Facebook and Yandex beats Google in Russia. Which is an additional complication if you want to introduce people to stuff such as Google Hangout On Air.

Demonstrating Google Hangout

Here I’m demonstrating Google Hangout on Air, but Google is not universal.

However, the specific tools are not crucial. What is most important is the philosophy. There are many tools out there for organizing public collaborative mind maps, social media radars, forums, blogs and online discussions. What is most needed is the change of mentality, away from private note-taking and brainstorming behind closed doors. Newsrooms should embrace the sharing of ideas and resources. Journalists can try this out for specific projects but my real hope is that they will embrace it for the daily newsroom activities, by default livestreaming their deliberations and information gathering and only closing the doors in order to protect sources and delicate aspects of investigative work.

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About rolandlegrand

I'm a digital newsroom manager at Mediafin, the publisher of Belgium's leading business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. I have a special interest in the intersection of immersive media, business and philosophy.
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