A Brazilian online journalism student writes… (Q&A)

Brazilian online journalism student Gabriela Zago has emailed me a number of questions about wikis and OJ. Here are my responses (the links are mine):

Q. How did you came up with the idea of writing an article about wiki journalism in a wiki format? Has the text received any more changes and contributions after the version presented at the Future of Newspapers Conference [PDF]?

A: Last year Shane Richmond wrote a post on his blog in reaction to another post by Bambi Francisco. I wrote a post asking ‘are wikis the new blogs’ which was then written up into an article for Press Gazette. When the conference called for papers I thought it would be an interesting issue to explore further. I suppose this is an example of iterative journalism in action. Posting it as a wiki was an obvious way to experiment with the format (I also created a Wikipedia entry for ‘wiki journalism’). Neither have had any changes since the conference.

Q. In wiki journalism, who is the true author, the journalist that initiated the text, or everyone else who contributed for it?

A: I think this is the biggest problem confronting adoption of wikis – the cultural need for ‘authorship’. There probably isn’t any “true author” in most wikis, but more a community of authors or contributors, if you like.

Q. News organizations seem to fear user-generated content. Do they really have to fear the participation? Or, in other words, what is the role of the professional journalist in a news coverage based on blogs, wikis and other type of media?

A: Most people fear change. UGC forces journalists to reassess their roles, and that can be uncomfortable. Free content forces news organisations to reassess their business models, and that is expensive and disruptive. Of course they shouldn’t fear user participation – it can liberate journalism and open up new ways to make money. What they are really afraid of is being left out of the game, and while for some the reaction has been protectionism, the worst thing to do is to do nothing. The role of the professional journalist “in a news coverage based on blogs, wikis and other type of media?” Firstly, I don’t believe that news coverage is particularly based on those things yet, or is likely to be in the near future. But I think they are an important factor, and in that situation, the professional journalist’s role is to move above the content.

What I mean by that is: journalists no longer need to act as constant middlemen, processing information from source to reader. Readers can access commercial and official sources online. Journalists, then, need to interrogate those sources more, to challenge assertions more, and to collate reaction from the blogosphere and other sources.

In a related vein, some journalists will need to develop a community management role, to manage content – to bring together bloggers and sources, to set up aggregation technologies, and to crowdsource stories that would otherwise be impossible to cover. What journalists don’t need to do is just add more noise to the information overload. I’ll be saying more about this in the second part of my model for a 21st century newsroom.

Q. What is the future of online news? Is the audience participation inevitable? An organization that ignores these new tools for online journalism can actually survive?

A: The future will be slower coming than we think. Cultures are resistant. Technologies are coopted and neutralised by the mainstream – look at how columns have been plonked online as ‘blogs’, or bloggers coopted as columnists. Print still has a role, so do TV and radio, and readers and viewers are more passive than we would sometimes like to acknowledge – although I am excited about the generation which is growing up ‘out of captivity’ so to speak. What is happening is an education of both journalists and readers in new media literacy: we’ll have lots of experiments, lots of failures, some successes. I think mobile is going to become increasingly important for news, as will social networking: the way we consume news about our friends via Facebook is one indication of how things may develop.

Nothing is inevitable, but I think ‘audience participation’ – I would prefer the term ‘community’ – is an important part of that, whether it takes place on mainstream news websites or elsewhere – like YouTube or Facebook – and news organisations need to be in on that or they will lose out to sites and services like those.

But tools are only tools, and an organisation that ignores them but still tells great stories and is able to distribute them (and more and more this is being done by other people) can survive.

Q: An extra question, to be answered based on the results of your experience on using Twitter to talk about what was happening at the Conference: Can micro-blogs like Twitter be used for the coverage of news and events? Would it work for any type of news, or there seems to have restricted uses for it?

A: Yes. But I think they work best for ongoing events like conferences, festivals, AGMs, running stories, personal experiences, etc. where there is a lot of information and ‘headline alerts’ are useful. One-off stories wouldn’t warrant a Twitter treatment for me.

1 thought on “A Brazilian online journalism student writes… (Q&A)

  1. Pingback: A student from the Philippines writes… (Q&A) « Online Journalism Blog

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