From Instagram to Open Journalism

Instagram’s changes to its terms of service are the most recent in a long string of events that remind us of the deal we make when we embrace “free” commercial platforms online. Now Instagram is going back to the drawing board, clarifying and revising its rules. But rather than wait for Instagram to get it right, maybe we should think about making something different. Maybe it’s time to get serious about creating community-driven public space on the Web.

In the Free Press report Greater Than the Sum: Creating Collaborative and Connected Public Media in America, we argued that we need to adapt our policies to foster more noncommercial online projects from traditional public broadcasters and digital startups alike. We promoted a “range of new platforms for community conversation, civic engagement and democratic dialogue.” The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has funded some great digital projects, but its emphasis on broadcasting has limited its impact online.

Can Journalism Heal the Web?

As social networks build walled gardens, could news organizations help build a networked digital public square? Open journalism, as defined and explored in a report from Southern California Public Radio Executive Editor Melanie Sill, puts the public first:

Open journalism’s core principles are transparency, responsiveness, participation, collaboration and connection. … It’s an idea for making quality journalism a collective endeavor and transforming it from a product driven by factory processes to a service driven by audience needs.

What if journalism organizations — especially nonprofit and public media organizations — invested in building meaningful online public spaces? PBS has created the nation’s most popular online site for children; some collaboration of public media and journalism organizations could do the same for photography, the arts, music or civil debate. 

Imagine a photo-sharing app with all the polish of Instagram that drew on news organizations’ historical archives to layer geo-tagged news stories over photos shared on the site. Imagine “seamless sharing” built on nurturing in-depth public debate about current events.

Journalism as a Service

These are ideas that call on news organizations to see themselves not as products but services. Sill argues that this shift toward journalism as a service can help reorient news organizations around empowering the public. What if newsrooms took seriously the idea of building community and encouraging people to create as well as consume the news?

Should a coalition of newsrooms try to create a Facebook competitor? No. But if journalism organizations aren’t seriously discussing how they can be part of defining a new era in the life of the Web, then the Internet will just be something that happens to them.

If we really want to create these new public tools and reinvigorate the public, open and connected nature of the Web, we need to think big and make key changes to media policy. If we believe that the arts, humanities, science and journalism in the physical world are all worthy of public funding, then we need to think about how we could support those endeavors online.

It will also take leading news organizations coming together to agree on some central principles, if not outright collaboration. In an age when paywalls are proliferating and it can be hard to get news organizations to link to outside sources, this is no easy task.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good