The open newsroom: Letting the community be the editor

Okay, so not all editors are like J. Jonah Jameson, the Spiderman-hating,  cigar-touting, shouting boss constantly looking for the latest spidey scoop.

Lately, I’ve noticed that a few news organizations have decided that not all editors should be in the office, like Mr. Jameson at The Daily Bugle. (And that’s as far as I’ll be taking this Peter Parker analogy…)

The Open Newsroom and community involvement is one of the biggest parts of the digital news evolution, and it’s fascinating to think where this may lead.

Of course there’s Canadian startup Openfile, which is a completely community-driven enterprise, with stories suggested by readers. It was heralded when it launched in May of 2010 as a whole new way of thinking about news.

And let’s be honest, we have to change the way we think about news, and we have to involve our community.

We’re no longer just reporting stories, we’re sharing them. And by getting our community involved in the process, they become a part of the organization.

By opening the doors, I think news organizations are creating a crucial connection – a fondness (am I being too sentimental?) – for the operation.

The Toronto Star today invited its online community to play its ‘You be the Editor’ game‘.  The Star’s Public Editor Kathy English wrote:

Every week, hundreds of Toronto Star readers weigh in on matters of accuracy, fairness, context and taste in stories, headlines and photos.

Now it’s your chance to play the annual game of second-guessing the Star’s editors. Following is a small sampling of reader criticism and concerns that reached the public editor’s office in 2011. If you were editor what would you decide?

The following real-life situations are just a few of the reader concerns that made their way to the public editor’s office in 2011. So tell me: If you were editor of the Star, what would you decide?

English is ready to take the heat and hear what her survey respondents think. Did The Star make the same call? She’ll be revealing this in a Dec. 24 column.

South of the border, The Register Citizen has been doing some amazing things with community involvement also.

Each morning, it posts a story that details the stories its reporters are working on, and asks them for their ideas: ‘What should we be working on?” Then at 4 p.m., it live blogs its meetings using Cover it Live, and invites readers for their input. Jameson would die if he heard this pitch:

Here’s a look at some of the stories we are working on today. If you have information or suggestions, please contact the reporter listed below. We also invite you to join us in a live meeting, begining at 4 p.m., during which you may contribute comments and suggestions directly to the meeting. We would love to hear from you.

Me, I love it. I think it’s a great way to get your community involved – and crowd source at the same time. Who knows who’s reading the stories the newsroom is working on.

One guaranteed reader is definitely the competition. Rick Thomason, the Register Citizen’s editor told the Columbia Journalism Review that they decide ahead of time what stories they will talk about in their now-very-public story meetings.

“Some stories we just don’t want to get beat on.”  But he says that “95 per cent of what we have, we talk about” and feels that the insight and community interaction make up for any ideas they end up providing to other media.

The New Haven Register has recently asked the community to help its editors with comments, and give the newsroom some guidance as to what they should approve.

Assistant Managing Editor, Disruption (an amazing title)  Chris March set up a survey to see if its community felt the website’s online comments passed its  Comment Violation Test – should they be blocked or deleted?

Going into this new process, we knew there would be challenging comments that aren’t an easy “okay” or “foul.” Especially, when the comment is on a heated topic or sensitive story, like theJoshua Komisarjevsky trial.

And that means we can’t ever close the book on our comments policy. Like the United States Constitution, we need to continue exploring, evolving and addressing these guidelines with our readers in a democratic way, amending it as necessary.

The transparency of an open newsroom is appealing to communities who for so long have never understood the mystery that goes into the daily grind of pumping out a newspaper each morning with fresh news. (there’s a reason it’s dubbed a ‘sausage factory’)

I’m not saying an open newsroom replaces  editors and reporters – these are the skills we are valued for after all – but it lets our community become a part of the process, so it can tell us what it wants to read and what comments it tolerates.

This naturally leads to a news organization our community continues to want, and needs.

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