Journalists aren’t experts.
That’s what members of the BIS press office heard on Monday from some of the Guardian’s journalists and digital strategists at a GCS event on digital and open journalism.
Social media has changed the face of traditional journalism, the speakers explained. Gone are the days of the well-connected journalist in the traditional sense of the phrase (well, not necessarily – but now it has a new meaning too).
Rather than being linked only to a small network of people in the centre and at the top of policy-making, good journalists are now well-connected in a much broader sense: to a lot of different people, with a lot of different views. The conversation and journalists’ sources have widened exponentially, from just senior officials to informed members of the public who discuss and debate issues on their own blogs and on Twitter, and those who are affected by policy on the front line.
This broader conversation is having an impact both on how journalists discover stories (an exchange on Twitter between teachers led to the social policy editor, @patrickjbutler, running a story about increased numbers of pupils arriving hungry at school), as well as what happens afterwards.
The Guardian has nearly 40 million readers, explained their director of digital strategy, @wblau, so “there’s always someone out there who’ll know more than the journalist”.
A good journalist is an approachable one, he said – someone who welcomes comment on a story from someone else who has deeper knowledge of the subject, whether that’s discussion of and elaboration on the facts; a suggestion of sources to follow up with for further exploration; or something as simple as correcting a typo.
The skill then comes in the journalist bundling this information together and turning it into a new and developed narrative which, in turn, generates further discussion.
“You’ve got more resources if you collaborate with your cleverest readers,” explained Blau.
From a press officer’s point of view, it provided a really interesting look at how digital media is changing the landscape in which journalists work: the fundamental nuts and bolts of the job haven’t changed, but there’s a much broader base from which a journalist can find great sources for stories, and an audience of experts who can develop and improve a story once it’s published.
And, as in any good session like this, there were a couple of practical points that we’ll be taking back to our desks in the press office.
Firstly, Twitter’s a great tool not just for monitoring what’s going on, but also for interacting with individual journalists: it allows us to learn about them and what they’re interested in, helping to improve our relationships with them.
Secondly, in an era where digital devices are increasingly important and prevalent, we should think about how we deliver our stories and our information to journalists. Maybe the traditional word-heavy press release shouldn’t necessarily be our default option…
And finally, the advent of collaborative journalism provides a real opportunity for press officers: by monitoring not just the coverage of our stories, but the comments and feedback they attract, we can anticipate where the story might go next, and the information we can provide to help shape the next discussion.
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