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Gatewatching and Citizen Journalism

Understanding Media Watchdog Blogs

The second speaker in this session at ECREA 2010 is Tobias Eberwein, whose interest is in media watchdog blogs. This is part of a larger pan-European/Arab research project, MediaACT (media accountability and transparency), which is engaging in comparative research across 13 nations.

Media accountability means a number of things, but can be summed up as any non-state means of making media responsible to the public. This may include press councils, ombudspersons, media journalism, blogs, social network commentary, entertainment formats (like news critique shows), and others; some of these are institutionalised (and some of those are facing various institutional crises), while some operate from the grassroots but nonetheless can have significant impact.

Surveying Online Political Participation in the Netherlands

The last day at ECREA 2010 starts with a paper by Tom Bakker, whose interest is in mapping participation in citizen media activities in the Netherlands. He notes that participation in social media still appears to be growing strongly overall – and these shifts in the media ecology necessarily bring about some significant changes. The potential for such change has been highlighted for journalism (gatekeeping is said to be declining, agenda setting, news values, standards, and ethics are shifting, and diversity is increasing), as well as for the wider public sphere (thought to be more inclusive, active, deliberative, with more political discourse that is more representative of public opinion).

The present study tested this in a large-scale study in the Netherlands. It surveyed some 2130 people over 13 years of age during December 2009. One question asked in this context was whether people were reading comments: some 55% never did, the rest read them at various levels of intensity. 75% never read political comments, 83% never posted comments, and 94% never posted political comments online.

Difficulties in Sustaining Hyperlocal News

The final speaker in this ECREA 2010 panel is Angela Phillips, who highlights the disappearance of local news; this is a significant challenge to democracy, as it makes it more difficult for citizens to participate in democratic processes in an informed fashion. She highlights hyperlocal blogs as a potential solution here, but these sites are in the main run by enthusiasts without any financial base, and this means that their quality and reach remain limited.

Finding hyperlocal news information is difficult: we don’t know what we need to know; there is no obvious equivalent to a front page of newspaper poster; there is no obvious equivalent to a news bulletin; and there are homogenising effects of online search. So, the hyperlocal sites which do exist could be seen as speaking only to a small elite of the already converted.

The Trouble with the Fourth Estate

I spoke at an event organised by the Queensland Chapter of the Australasian Study of Parliament Group last night, in the Queensland Parliamentary Annexe – alongside Democrats leader turned Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett, On Line Opinion founder Graham Young, and Courier-Mail political journalist Craig Johnstone.

The theme of the evening was ‘whether bloggers are the new fourth estate’ – and here’s what  had to say (a bit of a rant, as is pretty much unavoidable after the election campaign we’ve had):

Use of Citizen Sources during the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks

The next speaker at ANZCA 2010 is Serene Tng, whose interest is in the influence of citizen journalism on journalistic reporting; her case study are the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Citizen reporting is increasingly important in such major news events; this is social media in action. Serene examined the coverage of the attacks across four major international newspapers, in order to examine how citizen reporting affects the traditional dominance of standard institutional sources.

The role of the media is fundamental in any terrorist acts: the media could be seen as promoting the terrorist cause by reporting acts of terror, but government sources tend to dominate in the reporting and framing of such events; especially in breaking news, however, government sources are often backgrounded in favour of voices from the scene, and this may affect how stories are framed at such times.

The Shape of an Emerging Monitory Democracy

Another day at ANZCA 2010, another keynote: we're starting this last day of the conference with a keynote by John Keane, whose theme is monitory democracy. He begins chronologically, in 1945 - when there were only 12 parliamentary democracies left in the world. Democracy was a beleaguered species.

John himself is in search of a 'wild category' - a category that provides a new way of seeing conventional wisdom, provides alternatives to traditional ways of ordering thought. We need a new term for describing the dynamics, changes of language, shifts in institutions, of democracy - and monitory democracy is the term he offers. We need a new term to describe these novel trends (which exist all over the world, especially also outside the traditional democratic countries), and in particular to better understand the intersections of democracy and communication forms.

Towards Computational Journalism

I'll admit that I've skipped the ANZCA AGM to check out the (excellent) Museum of Australian Democracy in the front wing of Old Parliament House - well worth a visit, and I can now say that I've crossed the floor in both houses of parliament. The next session at ANZCA 2010, then, starts with a paper by Anna Daniel, whose focus is on computational journalism: a response to the changes in news consumption and production through the greater use of software and technologies that support journalistic work. The belief is that this approach can benefit the quality of journalistm, and in doing so set apart papers which use it from their competitors.

Publication Update: Three New Chapters

With the Internet Turning 40 and International Communication Association conferences completed, I'm briefly back in Brisbane, before setting off for the Australia/New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference in Canberra next week (hopefully with a recharged audio recorder!).

In the meantime, here's a quick update on some new publications I've been involved in - a number of my recent book chapters on a range of topics have now been published:

First, with a chapter on "News Blogs and Citizen Journalism" in e-Journalism: New Media and News Media I'm introducing my work on gatewatching and citizen journalism to an Indian readership - the book was edited by Kiran Prasad, who was my office mate at the University of Leeds while I was there in 2007 to do some research for the produsage book, and was published by B.R. Publishing in Delhi. I don't think the publisher actually has a Website - but there's a good overview of the collection at Cyberjournalist, and it also includes contact details for BR Publishing.

Studying Political Blogs in the Netherlands

Finally we move on to Tom Bakker in his ICA 2010 session, who has undertaken a content analysis of political blogs by citizens. Tom notes that there are a variety of terms to describe this citizen journalism, and that political Weblogs still tend to be seen as an archetype for this field; hence the focus on Weblogs. Who are the people who start such blogs, and what are they doing? Is it really 'everybody', as Clay Shirky has said?

In the first place, though: how do we find them? Tom began by using five blog search engines (Google Blogsearch, Technorati, Blogpulse, Icerocket, and Truthlaidbear) to find active Dutch blogs authored by citizens; these were narrowed down to political blogs by examining how the blogger or blog described themselves, and by checking whether at least two of the last five posts dealt with political topics. For the Netherlands, this ultimately resulted in a list of some 163 blogs - so, hardly 'everybody', but actually a fairly small group.

Attitudes towards Journalism Shield Laws amongst Journalists and Bloggers

The next speaker at ICA 2010 is C.W. Anderson, whose interest is in debates over the US shield law for journalists. Can we see a process of professional boundary maintenance in this (protecting definitions of who is and isn't a journalist)? The shield law debate emerged from questions about what legal protections were available to journalists who were suppoenaed to release information gathered from confidential sources; the law would protect journalists and their sources and grant them immunity from particular forms of prosecution.


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