About 30 journalists, PR people, software experts, and other media types crowded into the downstairs room at the Skiff in Brighton last night to debate the future of news, to examine the role of social media – and to catch up with old friends.
The event was the inaugural Brighton Future of News meet-up organised by Judith Townend, a reporter at Journalism.co.uk . Jo Wadsworth, web editor at Brighton’s local newspaper, The Argus spoke about community correspondents and local bloggers. According to Wadsworth, the people who will develop community reporting are former councillors and those who are already involved in community groups (people who like the sound of their own voice, I guess); those already publishing their views (people who like to see their name in print); and police community support officers (people who like to tell other people what to do).
Bloggers, Wadsworth said, are different to community reporters. They usually have professional writing skills or they are experts at what they do – such as running a small business. Blogging and community reporters, she said, can help to solve ‘the pothole paradox’ in other words to help local newspapers cover items of intense local interest (the pothole on your street) but allowing you to skip items of no interest (the pothole down the road). Wadsworth insisted that community reports are not a cheap way to replace professional journalists and said that community reporters have yet to cross over into mainstream journalism.
Simon Willison, a software architect at the Guardian, explained how the newspaper used crowdsourcing techniques to recruit readers to help shed light on MPs dodgy expenses. The exercise uncovered much bizarre material including Jack Straw’s extraordinary two-page note apologising for making a hash of his council tax claim. After the murky business of Westminster , it was a relief when Willison introduced us to the fresh air and wholesome diversions displayed on WildlifeNearYou.com. A must for all animal lovers this site lets you discover, for example, the location of your nearest llama or lion. Warning – it is seriously addictive; I’ve spent most of the morning tracking down otters .
Willison also demonstrated how a crowdsourcing application has created the most useful map for rescue teams in Haiti.
In a breakout group exercise, the most interesting crowdsourcing suggestion, I thought, was an idea to put prospective parliamentarians permanently on-the-record during the upcoming election campaign. Ah, the democratic power of the web – how our legislators must hate it.