Micronews & citizen's audit

In 2008 I converted part of my research on social networks and social networking online into material to be embedded within a marketing book.

I wasn’t the first (e.g. Google’s CEO said that the impact on printed news would be an increased demand of quality content), and will certainly not be the last to extol the potential virtues of user-generated news, not just content.

It is true, as often is repeated, that news online mix reporting with subjective, biased distortion of more or less real data toward a political or personal end.

Ops- that is what is actually done by professional media since the 95 theses were published few centuries ago…

So, what is the difference? Approach? Professionalism?

If you re-read some “news” published during one of the various wars (also ignoring the recent “embedded” journalism) in the XIX and XX century, you probably will have a tough time trying to reconcile history as it is now accepted with news reported by newspapers based in belligerent countries at the time.

But the last few decades “industrialized” the news industry.

Our “churnalism” (i.e. volume-oriented news production) is cutting costs where it hurts- sourcing news.

So much that, few years ago, more than once I caught a famous Italian correspondent from the US publishing articles in Italian newspapers that were verbatim extracts from the New York Times, without even quoting the source- and just adding his own commentary, but as if had produced also the original report.

But, at least, he was getting “inspired” by a quality newspaper.

The issue is really something else: often, we moved from multiple sources to single, biased sources.

And, as usual, you do not need to take my word- search online for “churnalism”.

Interestingly, the attacker (in UK) was counterattacked not with data, but with “we are good” claims from major newspapers.

Well, pick up the newspapers, or watch the news: how often the “two sides” are actually almost singing as a choir and seem old chums who appear in tandem, with minimal differences?

The idea behind micronews is not to replace newspapers- it is to have grass-root, instantaneous news reporting.

You disagree with something? just add your own comment.

But there is another side-effect: the potential for spontaneous and instant feed-back on specific issues, as discovered by many companies, e.g. when misusing social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc).

While old newspapers kept the focus on a news item for few days, and all the PR machinery (notably for politicians) was focused on shifting or re-generating the news cycle, in the new grass-root media cycle a news item can be routinely re-launched.

An Italian online friend started an experiment nearby Venice, and now is expanding across the country (see the Facebook Group), using a loose confederation of de-facto franchisee using the same concept and “rulebook”.

In my perspective, citizens can accelerate the news cycle and ensure that news agencies and newspapers report and focus on what matters to citizens- instead of what is pushed by interested parties.

And the shared interests of the people involved can actually work better than our current system of “watchdogs” or self-policing professional organizations, as citizens are unconstrained by political balancing or tip-toeing around the risk of upsetting somebody and losing access to news sources.

Micronews created by grass-root communities could actually generate enough interest to be followed up, on specific issues, by citizens’ audits on the “externalities” produced by corporate and government initiatives and, eventually, by mainstream media.

It happened in the past, with small local newspapers reporting news that eventually were “lifted” by large news organizations.

Certainly, this will require a redefinition of the role and purpose of “professional” news organizations- but being professional, they could still focus on the “in depth” review and analysis, thanks also to their access to corporate and government officials (and politicians).

Anyway- if you travel across Europe, you can see that the most read newspapers on public transport are… free news, subsidized by advertisement.

Therefore, it is not really Internet that is killing Fleet Street, but the change in news consumption attitudes generated by the 30 second sound-bites sold by TV.

Italy came late to the sound-bite game, as it started having multiple channels only between late 1970s and early 1980s.

At the time my father was working for a state company managing the advertisement of most political newspapers (and some non-political ones), and I was used to browse multiple newspapers almost each day, while also observing the impact of “free to air” TV and radio (both supported mainly by advertisement) on newspapers.

Internet could actually free (quality) newspapers from the impossible competition with TV, as they could complement online their consolidated reporting and analysis of what is reported elsewhere, while focusing on printing or reporting on news and trends that they could identify across the multiple grass-root initiatives.

If you want: democratic news sourcing- adding the voice of the people to those of governments and organizations.

And what you can hear, you can understand.

As the old saying goes… if you cannot beat them, (creatively) join them!


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