Trust, the missing link

At the moment Australian journalism seems to be at odds with its audience and it all seems to come down to trust. The Finkelstein report, released earlier this year, names journalists as the fourth least trustworthy professionals, above only real estate agents, advertising people, and used car salesmen.

Though it’s not as though journalists themselves are too blind too see it. In a study conducted in 2004 by RMIT and Roy Morgan a sample of journalists were surveyed. And it seems there are mutual concerns for both journalists and audiences. The report identifies accuracy, bias, and ownership as key contributors to the public’s lack of trust in journalists. With 56% of the surveyed journalists admitting to ‘often’ making mistakes, and 62% say these mistakes are ‘sometimes’ corrected. Further, 73% agree that media proprietors ‘use their outlets to push their own business and/or political interests to influence the national debate’.

Accuracy, bias, and ownership all contribute to the lack of trust that has created the gap that divides news producers and audiences. Since the rapid increase in the usage of online media outlets and the decline in newspaper readership, this gap seems to have grown. There have been attempts to address this in other countries such as the United Kingdom, with The Guardian. Editor-in-cheif Alan Rusbridger identifies the web as being a crucial factor in bringing a higher level of transparency to world affairs. He says “Our approach recognises the importance of putting a newspaper at the heart of the open eco-structure of information so that you can then harness different voices and link to an array of other sources.” This quote does more than establish The Guardian’s change in journalistic practice it also highlights a change in mind set. The notion of an eco-structure that works through a reciprocal collaboration of recourses, that allows for a relationship between news-producers and those formerly known as the audience; a relationship rooted in and encouraging trust.

Deni Elliott, in Essential Shard Values and 21st Century Journalism, claims that the social responsibility of the journalist in a democracy is to “notice and report the important events and issues that citizens need to know so that they can govern themselves effectively”. Yet with the rise of digital media it seems that the role of the journalist has changed, and that in order to notice report important events and issues journalists need to adopt this notion of an eco-system that collaborates with others (such as bloggers), curates material, and encourages debate. However, insofar as Australian journalism, this change is seen as more of a threat than a benefit. James discusses the attitude of the journalist towards the changing dynamics of the news industry in Authority?. This perceived separation between journalistic ‘professionals’ and those formerly known as the audience is no longer viable.

I find myself perplexed, given the current state of the relationship between the Australian public and Australian media outlets, it begs the question, what are we waiting for?

Defining Open Journalism

Rather than considering open journalism a mode of journalism or as a type of journalism, we consider open journalism a system, or a form of organization including different forms of journalism that are often produced by a third party. Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-cheif of the Guardian, describes open journalism as:

journalism which is fully knitted into the web of information that exists in the world today. It links to it; sifts and filters it; collaborates with it and generally uses the ability of anyone to publish and share material to give a better account of the world.

The Guardian, as one of the leading examples of how open journalism can function successfully, developed these ten principles of what open journalism is:

  • It encourages participation. It invites and/or allows a response
  • It is not an inert, “us” or “them”, form of publishing
  • It encourages others to initiate debate, publish material or make suggestions. We can follow, as well as lead. We can involve others in the pre-publication processes
  • It helps form communities of joint interest around subjects, issues or individuals
  • It is open to the web and is part of it. It links to, and collaborates with, other material (including services) on the web
  • It aggregates and/or curates the work of others
  • It recognizes that journalists are not the only voices of authority, expertise and interest
  • It aspires to achieve, and reflect, diversity as well as promoting shared values
  • It recognizes that publishing can be the beginning of the journalistic process rather than the end
  • It is transparent and open to challenge – including correction, clarification and addition

From the above points it is clear what The Guardian sets out to achieve with open journalism. It is important to recognise that without those third parties participating in open journalism, the system would seize to exist. In the article Anyone Can Know by Sue Robinson and Cathy DeShano, there is extensive discussion about citizen journalism and its contribution to mainstream press.

Since the early 2000s there has been a dramatic increase in trust that the public has for ‘qualified’ bloggers, sending the message that journalists need to move over and make room. This trust increase has been good for society as the it encourages citizens to participate in their democracy now that they have a say in the news production. And for those that are doing it well, there is no shortage of recognition from the public. In 2005 it was shown that over half of American’s who read blogs believed that bloggers should have the same rights as traditional journalists. This information shows a clear shift from traditional consumption of news into the digital age.

The case study that was observed and reviewed in this article concludes the necessity for citizen journalists to work together with traditional journalists. This is where open journalism comes into play and recognizes the traditional journalist as the curator of information. There seems to be a competition between the objectivity, credibility and accuracy of the traditional journalist and the connections, freshness, volume and transparency of citizen bloggers. Open journalism is an opportunity for the competition to turn into a collaboration. Both journalists can use their set skills in order to work together and create journalism that encompasses all of the aforementioned skills.

Open journalism is an ecosystem where in all the parts must function together to work effectively. Open journalism is the tool that manages, filters, links to, and collaborates with all parts to create a platform for anyone to share or publish material.