Two years back on a downgraded perverted Monday morning, the Daily Mail wrote, “A distinguished Oxford contemporary claims Cameron once took part in an outrageous initiation ceremony at a Piers Gaveston event, involving a dead pig,”. The story went haywire on social media spinning off into hashtags, memes, troll profiles and all sorts of virtual degeneracy. The celebrities, elites and senior politicians got there share of fun too and the whole world gossiped on about it. By the end of that day the distinguished Daily Mail journalist, who co-authored the book along side Lord Ashcroft, came out with the admission that they had nothing to prove these allegations. Nine months later on 24th June, David Cameron resigns as the Prime Minister of UK.
News or newspapers
“News” is the undercurrent of the world, rich in information, heavy with emotions and degenerating at its worst. It has evolved through the times, forcefully changed structures and taken the shape of tools to best harvest and propagate information in every context. In our daily routine we come across multiple scenarios where we need to enquire into depths of current affairs revolving around our careers, our lives, interests and often our families.
We consume news via books, magazines, radio, TV and the internet using tools like subscriptions, feeds, web sites etc. We then bring it to our local community of like-minded people for focused discussions, dissections, and criticism before taking it to the point of action. This activity can be carried out either within the same community, sometimes involving it or at times outside it.
At the source news is picked up in pockets and is propagated through multiple channels as reported by the first observer, and consequentially re-printed by the smaller broadcasters. This then gets tapped by the bigger news organisations and national institutions who in turn broadcast the news to the entire country or parts of it.
But currently there’s a gap that’s only widening...
Lots of newsworthy things happen in this city of nearly 30,000, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s just that many of them don’t make the local news.
News has been made into an open source and open sharing platform where through the use of multiple tools around assimilation, editing and reprinting of news items the landscape of sources and readers is growing at a rapid pace and has changed in its composition. Yet still regardless of how in our current context it has been digitised, the gaps in discovery and consumption especially from the perspective of authenticity and truthfulness is ever increasing.
Local news is the mom-&-pop of journalism
The journalistic industry has three kinds of news institutions — one driven by local citizens only, one with smaller teams that research into real time situations and the other ones that aggregate all the news for a larger and sometimes national broadcast. Local news is fuelled by the principle that everyone in the sense of the word is a journalist. To enquire, to find truth and drive verification are the first principles of media and especially in the case of news.
Citizen news brings the same enquiry to pockets in the city, sometimes spreading stories faster than even big news teams can. Driven by real communities who use smart phones and other new age gadgets to report breaking news from the scene. Examples of citizen driven journalism are all around in the format of platforms like Reddit, Twitter, Bloggr, Vines, etc. The Guardian’s ‘Guardian Witness’ app purposely targets citizen journalists, asking them to supply staff journalists with videos, photos and stories of any event they deem newsworthy.
Below is an example of one of the several Twitter posts that later turned into a headline on major news channels.
Yet there is a big problem with this source of news and it lies in authenticity, reality is not always authentic. In the past social media has led to multiple domino effectuated scenarios which have been all but pleasant. The increasing decentralisation of the consumption and supply of news has often come in the way of socio-political decisions and hampered the better judgement. Additionally it has become increasingly easy to follow and subscribe to sources through tools like feeds and hashtags. Together with the ease of upkeep, the efficiency of micro channels and quality connections that can be made at the grassroots news is taking the world by storm, whether through making it or by faking it.
In fact the Guardian states, “Social media has swallowed the news — threatening the funding of public-interest reporting and ushering in an era when everyone has their own facts. But the consequences go far beyond journalism.”
Find things out and tell the truth, by example
Community action leads to wholesome transformation
The activity of citizen based journalism now has a bigger platform through the likes of new media tools. But news institutions don’t always pick this up. As mentioned before, information grounded in authentic reality is reducing. We are missing community participation that transforms news items through purposeful discussions and action.
In fact most communities that have been successful are driven towards ground enquiry, documentation, inculcating resultant values and the final translation into actions — filled with intent, empathy and vision.
Take the case of Kapil Sharma who founded SayTrees, an organisation that hosts, manages and supplies volunteer plantation drives across 6 major cities in India. They connect corporates to carry fund events and have free memberships to clubs, groups and even certificates. They have this documented well on their website. They’re doing this through medium scale community activation and in the context of environmental awareness delivering an all-round value to everyone involved.
As a result of their efforts as a fellow environmentalist I along with my community of growers stay updated about plantation drives, the state of local communities, discussions and techniques discussed by the ever expanding community.
It does not always have to be a huge step, the small ones add up too and it’s the habit that matters. An example such community participation that ‘keeps the machine well oiled’ — the other day I was travelling in Bangalore Metro and I almost missed the train for a restroom stop. The misplaced signs made me travel all the way up with “Up”arrows pointing to the restrooms which obviously seem to be on the 1st floor, the platform. Turns out it was at the entrance below from where I just climbed up.
When I go all the way down I figure that the guy at the electronic gates is aware of this and has readymade instructions to clear someone to go in-out freely in the event that this happened. The next time I go down to that station I am going to make sure to stick a couple of arrows at the entrance itself. Not a big deal, but a local problem solver.
Revealing authenticity of each reality
Citizen journalism is a mixed bag of equivocal and asynchronous updates, grassroots empowerment, community activation, personal biases, individuality, uncertainty and that certain roughness that makes this entire phenomenon very unstable.
The value that community brings to the process of creation is understated in that it has the power of snowballing from the granular to the magnum at an amazing speed — the domino effect.
Enabling and activating multiple points of contact across a local community benefits everyone but again and again, and due to the chaotic nature of this force, it is important to be reinforced and reminded of the disadvantages like personal bias, fake news and intended or financed misinformation.
In fact taking a look at a few activity charts we can note how the social and economic possibilities change according to the kind of exposure received.
From these charts one can easily notice the implications of activation, intent, documentation, tools and the people they are directly in touch with compared to their final achievements (albeit we’re considering financial achievements as the factor here as it is usually a wholesome indicator; this in reality is changing and I am looking out to come across data aligned to goals and activities rather than only earnings).
Organising the dominoes
Benefits of citizen journalism
To be able to sum these up a stringent method of authentic reality based news needs to been noted as the new standard among press houses, publications and individual outlets.
This is sort of like the sprint week cycle where by the end of the week we have feedback on what we built and put out on Monday.
Real journalism needs hearts, bodies and minds
The valuable, civic, pounding-the-streets, sifting-the-database, asking-challenging-questions, uncovering things that someone doesn’t want you to know — that serious kind of journalism is missing. And it is much needed for public interests, society is crying out loud for it. There just doesn’t seem to be enough money in it, yet!
We need to save this tool of enquiry. I am about to share a simplistic summary of Rosenstiel’s disciplinary concepts which may help to build on this seemingly unstable “community vortex”.
The core principles of effective and truthful journalism
These are all first class needs to dissect and organise findings into structured cause effect scenarios and investigations. The entire game of citizen news is to be able to capture, filter, tag and treat items or perspectives as they should be treated from not only the local context but with the bigger picture in mind to draw the right connections whenever needed.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” — Bruce Lee
Make a space for yourself, make a space for your folks. Create a local community or meetup, a Facebook group, a Reddit page, a Medium post, find the ones driven to enquire the way you are and invite them personally. Get started with the discussions, the polls, the references, teardowns — conduct an all out investigation on the biggest issues in your local community whether it’s a dirty murder, a political lobby scam, a business hush up, budgets under-the-carpet, you pick the one hurting you and your community the most right now. Follow through with the the clarity of an entire community, the force of many and intelligence of an entire species, that is the power of being united.
Are you with me? Do you have such establishments around you already and would like to share there stories? Have you built one yet or added to your local community with real information and authentic action? Let me know in the comments.
This article is a part of my exploration into new media news sources, local community building for the same. It comes after 3 weeks since the launch of NewsBot (currently in BETA).
Along the same lines I am building an open hyperlocal community of citizen based news in Bangalore, India and then possibly the whole wide world. If you’re a journalist or want to get involved in citizen reporting, you’re invited!
If you know someone it’d be great if you could leave a comment or drop a mail.