Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The future of journalism: IN vs OUT

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 5, 2009

The news production process has pretty much always been divided into two parts: input (newsgathering) and output (news production). In the debate about the future of news, is this being forgotton?

For example, my blog post Introducing: the Journalist of the Future focussed, unwittingly, entirely on news output – the way the content will be produced. It mentioned nothing of news gathering. It may be that in the future, these two sides of the coin will be completely separated.

And while the editors and managers engage in a bout of synchronized-head-scratching over how to get us to pay for the output side of news, the input side appears to be generating itself a nice bit of revenue potential.

It’s time to give that area some attention.

new media news gathering

These operations could succeed not because they offer the audience a pre-packaged, scripted and editorialised view of the world; quite the opposite. Their value is in allowing the audience easy access to the raw data. The police statistics, the council decisions, the official documents.

Of course, these are (or should be) accessible to the public anyway, but are often too time consuming to get hold of.  Another characteristic of these operations is they often (although not always) involve some form of crowdsourcing for their success

Three (potentially) successful new-media newsgathering operations

01. Everyblock

Everyblock (in the US only) currently covers a dozen or so cities. It works by providing its audience with critical official data by geographical area. When when I say critical official data, some of it is hard to believe. Residents, and even casual visitors, can see how many 911 calls were made for any particular street and what they were about. They can see every restaurant inspection carried out in Boston, and details of every building permit in Seattle.

Sadly the appalling lack of public information available in the UK means this type of site may not make it to the UK.

02. Help Me Investigate

Just launched in the UK in July, Help Me Investigate is effectively crowd-sourced reporting. Members of the public can suggest issues they want investigated, and other members of the public can help uncover the details; each person does their own little bit. It’s already had a couple big hits in the Birmingham local press.

Again, Help Me Investigate isn’t about sexy audio slideshows or a great package, it’s about public access to raw data.

03. Spot.US

Working along the same theme, Spot.US allows the public to get access to the answers they want. Members of the public suggest stories they want covered, and then a fundraising effort gets underway to pay a professional reporter to get to work. I like this idea because it still gives some currency to the trained journalist and their abilities to uncover the truth.

So what makes these sites different?

They’re all about the information, the data, the evidence. It’s not about finding a new way to produce content; no new ways of shooting video, or unique storytelling device.

And while they might not resemble a newspaper or anything like that, they still provide the same vital public service. These news input projects are one of the first tangibly positive things to emerge from this media revolution.

2 Responses

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  1. Jon Moss said, on August 7, 2009 at 6:04 am

    I love the idea of news that is really relevant to people, news that THEY want to hear about. Whether crowdsourced or user-generated.

    With the power of online technology, we will soon be getting micro-news delivered in many different ways. I’m still consuming news in traditional ways too though, like good old Radio 4, on right now as I write this in the morning.

    Getting news IN is of course much, much faster, and pretty much instant now, from someone’s Auidoboo, to tweet to video shot on the iPhone and uploaded to YouTube. Exciting times!

  2. […] Alexandre Gamela shared The future of journalism: IN vs OUT […]


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