This is going to be an exciting Spring, with some big projects seeing the fruit of months of work. I am specially fond of the research project on audience participation management in online newspapers. We did interviews with news editors and community managers of 24 newsrooms in 10 countries in Europe, North America and Israel. The team included Jane Singer, Alfred Hermida, Ari Heinonen, Thorsten Quandt, Zvi Reich, Marina Vujnovic, and me.

In few weeks, the book summarizing the results of the study will be available: Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers. Alfred Hermida presented some of the conclusions at the recent International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas, and the reactions on Twitter show that the research is welcomed as much needed. Beyond the hype about audience participation and citizen journalism, we tried to assess how journalists perceive this trends and how they manage user-generated content in practical terms. We found that they try to resist empowering the audience, therefore keeping the gatekeeper role of the journalist and in many cases setting participation opportunities as separate playgrounds for the users, separate from news production.

We have also published several articles in scientific journals in the process of producing this study. Check them out!

Vujnovic, M.; Singer, J.; Paulussen, S; Heinonen, A.; Reich, Z.; Quandt, T.; Hermida, A.; Domingo, D.  (2010).  Exploring the political-economic factors of participatory journalism: a first look into self-reports by online journalists and editors in ten countries. Journalism Practice, 4(3),  285-296. [Abstract, PDF]

Domingo, D., Quandt, T., Heinonen, A., Paulussen, S., Singer, J., Vujnovic, M. (2008) Participatory journalism practices in the media and beyond: an international comparative study of initiatives in online newspapers. Journalism Practice, 2(3), 680-704. [Abstract, PDF]

Paulussen, S., Heinonen, A., Domingo, D. & Quandt, T. (2007). “Doing it together: Citizen participation in the professional news making process”. Observatorio (OBS*) Journal, 1(3):131-154. [PDF]

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Since the beginning of August and until the end of January 2011, I am in Finland, at the Journalism Research and Development Center of the University of Tampere, collaborating with good friends in an exciting international project, codename MediaAcT. We are researching media accountability and transparency practices in Europe, the US and the Arab World. The project is an endeavor of researchers from 14 universities and we intend to explore how the Internet can foster best practices in media accountability.

This is the first time that an international effort is undertaken to investigate and disseminate the practices that make journalists accountable for the quality of their work. We believe this can help strengthen and spread media accountability, as we will publish a directory of best practices, cases and experts, as well as develop recommendations and guidelines.

In the phase of the project I’m involved in we will conduct interviews with experts during October and November in half a dozen of countries. Prior to that, we are using an innovative approach to gather data about existing practices and media events that triggered innovations in media accountability and criticism. The technological platform we are using, Etherpad, is an open source collaborative document platform, much more robust than Google Docs (no wonder why Google hired the creators of Etherpad so that the project is now discontinued, though still available).

Our idea in using Etherpad is that several experts can put together much more fruitful and accurate data if they work on the same document than through separate surveys. One of the purposes of this project is building up a lively network of experts committed with the quality of journalism, and this collaborative documents are the first step. Please, let me know if you want to participate.

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Next Monday, November 23rd, I’ll be in Lisbon summarizing my research on innovation processes in online newsrooms (Pptx) at the International Conference titled “Broadband Media: Changing Times, Changing Media” organized by the online scholarly journal (OBS*).

There will be quite a lot of Catalan scholars presenting in the event considering our small academic community in Communication Studies: Roberto Suarez (Univ. Pompeu Fabra), David Fernández-Quijada (Univ. Autònoma de Barcelona) and myself.

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The Knight Foundation offers for the fourth time grants for local journalism projects that develop open-source software that can be useful for other communities. This News Challenge is a wonderful innovation booster. And I have gathered old and new colleagues to submit a very exciting project!

These are the highlights. Your feedback will be welcome, as we will be refining it in the coming weeks! You may write your comments here or, even better, in the News Challenge application page!

PARTICIPA: Reconnecting journalists and citizens to foster community consensus

PARTICIPA wants to rethink citizen journalism in order to promote a more active citizenry that engages in social debate in search for community consensus, and to help journalism regain its status as a profession that truly serves its community. The core rationale is to take the burden off citizens, defining new roles for more involved journalists and using open-source software to make participation easier and more effective, purposeful and consensus-oriented.

In a given local community, two journalists will work online and offline to help all citizens voice their concerns and proposals, design debates’ phases, synthesize contributions, add background information… Journalists’ professional values and skills make them the best prepared individuals to watch over the quality of the debate and lead it to consensual solutions.

An online participation management platform (PARTICIPA, based on custom developments to the Liferay open-source CMS) will allow defining clear phases and aims for the community debates to facilitate participation, and will organize offline and online contributions into coherent collections to ease decision-making.

We will test the project at Serrallo, the fishermen neighborhood of Tarragona (in Catalonia, Spain). This neighborhood combines an aging community that sees the old business fading away, and newcomers from Northern-Africa and Latin-America that face multiple challenges in a new culture. The project will foster dialogue to find common goals and solutions, and at the same time will promote digital literacy with public workshops. Video messages recorded by journalists will be often used for citizens’ contributions, to lower the barriers for participation.

Citizen journalism and web 2.0 initiatives have empowered local communities, but they often lack an effective management, which diminishes their social impact. Professional online media usually treat audience participation as a playground rather than regarding users as citizen. Our project wants to revisit and update the tradition of public journalism to improve the social impact of participation. We will use online software to transform random participation into clear and easy step-by-step phases that, with the aid of journalists, guide citizens into effective collective debate that fosters consensus. This will also rebuild the trust between citizens and journalists, a necessary step in strengthening the democratic role of media.

The project will involve several organizations, mainly:

Vegga.org is a multidisciplinary non-profit organization committed with the development of open-source software to enhance decision-making processes and the quality of democracy. Until now, it has mainly helped NGOs to manage internal participation processes, but we feel that by making use of journalistic practices and professionalism we can have a greater social impact. Vegga will initiate a process to become a Foundation in order to raise funds that would guarantee the future sustainability of the project.

Tarragona21.cat is a local online-only news site serving the local communities of Tarragona. They would report on the process and outcome of the participation project, that will become a new way for them to connect to their audiences far beyond the usual features (comments on news, citizen-produced stories).

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