Sourcing Stories in The New Media Age

So far this model has looked at sourcing stories in the new media age, and reporting a news story in the new media age. In this third part I look at what should happen after a news story has been reported, using a familiar framework: the 5 Ws and a H – who, what, where, why, when and how.
A web page – unlike a newspaper, magazine or broadcast – is never finished – or at least, can always be updated. Its permanence is central to its power, and relates directly to its connectivity (and therefore visibility).
Once out there it can be linked to, commented on, discussed, dissected, tagged, bookmarked and sent to a friend. That can take place on the original news site, but it probably doesn’t. The story is no longer yours. So once the news site has added comments, a message board, ‘email to a friend’ boxes and ‘bookmark this’ buttons, what more can it do?
Let’s look at conversations. Conversations are good. They help us work through our thoughts; they help us rethink ideas; put together compelling arguments; make connections; spot holes; negotiate; compromise.
But they’re only the start.
Have you ever been to one of those meetings where there is a lot of talking – but no action? That’s what most news websites and blogs are like at the moment. One endless meeting.
There are some hugely important issues right now. Traditionally news organisations have sought to explain what’s going on, to clarify, to investigate. But given the infinite space, the permanence – and, above all, the connectivity and functionality of new media – shouldn’t we do more?
Shouldn’t we be connecting?
So here’s what my 21st century newsroom does with a story once it’s published. It seeks to make connections – along these lines:
  • Who can I connect with?
  • What did the journalist read to write this?
  • Where did this happen?
  • When are events coming up that I need to be aware of?
  • Why should I care?
  • How can I make a difference?
I’ll deal with these one by one:
Who can I connect with?
The story is about recycling (local facilities are not good enough). Or the story is about chess. Or the story is about fertility treatments. Once someone reads it, they feel they want to talk to someone about it, or organise something, or just play chess.
Traditionally the newspaper/station may have broadcast or printed a telephone number of a traditional organisation – but that organisation had to exist in the first place; and they already have their own agenda. What if our readers want to connect with each other, without the middle man?
Social networking – in some cases crowdsourcing – should be working naturally off the back of these stories. Not just a message board, but a self-generating community of interest: ‘I read this story and wanted to connect’. It may be a pre-existing Facebook group, or a service to build your own social network (Ning and Elgg are just two), or something actively managed by the newsroom (the Community Editor’s role) – or it may be something built using your dating website systems, or your MyX platform. Whatever it is, help them do it.
What did the journalist read to write this?
This should be part of routine practice already, but through a combination of resistant journalistic culture; clunky CMS’s; and lack of time, journalists still don’t routinely link to their sources. So, we need a way to make this happen.
One way would be to make the journalist’s social bookmarking account part of their byline (and, of course, they should be social bookmarking). Unfortunately, it’s not obvious what bookmarks relate to any particular story, so we might need some AI-engineered way of pulling those under related tags. Or, better still, the journalist uses a story-specific tag when bookmarking, and that is used on the story. Readers can then use the same tag to produce more links.
Where did this happen?
Here’s a simple one, and it’s already happening: map your stories. When the California wildfires spread, news organisations tapped into the technology of GoogleMaps to inform their audience; the LA Times uses Google Maps to illustrate homicide data. But these are exceptional, so let’s take more workaday examples. In the UK, regional newspaper publisher Archant is geotagging its stories so readers can choose to read stories within a certain radius; the BBC is experimenting with GPS tagging of stories collected on mobile devices; or how about this map of local bloggers. Then there’s YourStreet, which is doing this with existing stories (US only). Google Maps Mania keeps a running record of experiments across a range of websites – we should be watching these and learning.
When are events coming up that I need to be aware of?
Another simple one. If I read a story about an upcoming festival/reading/demonstration, it would be nice to be able to easily add it to my Outlook/Yahoo/Google calendar – in the same way I can click ‘add to my RSS reader’. Or how about I can sign up for a mobile text alert ahead of the event taking place? Even better would be if I could add my own event that I happen to be organising on the issue being covered.
Some news organisations have events calendars – imagine what an essential resource that would be if your readers could add to it, and even classify with their own tags. Then what if your stories automatically pulled events with related tags? And then perhaps we could sell sponsored links like Google, and make a bit of money? Or charge for a mobile reminder to your phone? Wouldn’t that be nice.
Why should I care?
Possibly the biggest question (and perhaps one that should be answered before the article starts). So the lowest rate of income tax is being axed? How does that affect me? So they want to build houses on green belt land? I don’t live there. Why should I care what happens in Uganda, or Iran?
New media technologies – and databases in particular – offer amazing ways to personalise news and illustrate how it affects the reader. USA Today’s candidate match game is one example that matches you with a candidate based on your views, while the BBC’s Budget Calculator aims to tell you how a new budget will affect you. But we can do much more: if the Stern Review put a figure on how much environmental change will affect our economies, could we tell an individual reader how much it will affect their wallet?
How can I make a difference?
In a way, most of the above questions will go some way to answering this one. The reader can organise with other people; they can add events to their diary; they can raise awareness. But let’s ask this question explicitly: people are starving – what can I do? global temperatures are rising – what can I do?
Again, while there is a fine tradition of feature articles in this vein, this is about opening it to readers. The web offers easy access to online petitions and automatically generated letters to your MP on the more traditional side; while consumer action and changing consumer behaviour is made easy by the ability to switch services online. No doubt there are other examples I’m not including (smart mobs spring to mind). And yes, it’s about advocacy, which may be uncomfortable for journalists used to the principle of objectivity. But I think we’re past that, aren’t we?
This is a work in progress. Please add your own contributions – are there other Who/What/Where/Why/When/Hows? Examples already in practice?
Note: Thanks to Nick Booth for helping work through these ideas at PICNIC 07
Update 2: Nico Luchsinger suggests the integration of a comment tracking tool (like CoComment), that “makes the journalists’ comments elsewhere available, possibly also with a tagging functionality, so that you can look at comments on a specific subject.”
Update 3: Vincent Maher makes a number of useful points:
1.      Microformats, esp. calendar and contacts, are going to be great for this
2.      The idea of social connections and context left on content like perfume is slightly weird but also potentially massive. So you go to a story, see a list of people who said they want to connect with others and why, and you can connect with them using something like OpenSocial, if they create a portable profile system, in whatever container you’re all in. Killer.
3.      In this day and age everything should be geo-coded no matter how transient it may seem. The next great navigational device is the plan itself and history needs to be encoded into/onto it.
  1. Tag aggregators like technorati are useful for pulling out related blog entries etc, but new orgs should agree to a a standard API for extracting tag-relational data from their own archives. So a standard way to publish the address of the remote methods, the input format i.e. a list of tags, a date constraint and some info on how to order the results. Then it sends back a list of headlines, blurbs, dates and URIs. Simple enough and this would enable bloggers to be able to do the reverse back again – i.e. instead of media linking to related blogs, be able to link to related media stories in a particular publication. News must stop being content and become a platform.

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