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LONDON – When the 3 little pigs — instead of the big, bad wolf — are held liable for the destruction of their own houses, you know something’s up. Why did this happen? Who could even suggest a thing? Why should this matter? For answers to these questions, it may help to check not with the literati, but with the voices in social media.
The Guardian, a leading British daily, reconstructed the fairy tale, “The Three Little Pigs,” to show how open journalism could help illuminate the big picture. Open journalism allows netizens to share their views on different issues, broadening the space for debate and discussion, and ultimately increasing the demand for transparency.
In The Guardian’s re-imagined version of the fairy tale, the 3 little pigs framed the wolf for the crime of destroying their properties to get insurance (In the original story, the big, bad wolf, huffed and puffed to bring the houses of the pigs down). As the issue unraveled, netizens commented that the story went beyond just a single bad episode between the anthropormophic animals — it concerns rising mortgage payments and the need for the government to introduce reforms.
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The Guardian has community coordinators who focus on the interactions in social media. Rappler interviewed one of them, Jaz Cummins, the community coordinator of Global Development (another project of The Guardian, which features reports and analyses on the progress of Millennium Development Goals) on the relevance of social media in today’s journalism.
Rappler: Can you tell us what you do for The Guardian?
Cummins: I’m the community coordinator of The Guardian‘s The Global Development site. I’m part of the community’s team here, that includes community coordinators on different sections, so one community coordinator works for one section, so that may be news, sports, etc. I work on the Global Development site, which focuses on development stories around the world, looking at sanitation, health, etc.
My job is to put into place everything that you would want to do with open and community journalism, so on a day-to-day level, that’s getting involved with comments on the site, using Twitter and Facebook, Flickr; think of all the ways we can get our readers involved; get our readers writing for short pieces, anything that we can do that help them because often they are very knowledgeable about a story, so it’s a great way of bringing them in. And the reason for my role is that The Guardian is very interested in open journalism, so if you go to guardian.co.uk/open, you can see all the things we’re doing around open journalism. That’s everything from getting our readers involved in our comments and talking to us through Twitter and Facebook and other platforms. But they might have a bigger part in the story. We might initially interact with them on a story but they may end up being an important source for journalists.
Rappler: Is this open journalism similar then to citizen journalism?
Cummins: I think it is, I think probably the two terms, technically may mean something different. But very much, I think it’s the same spirit — that the news can come from all directions, can come from outside the news organizations. Some of the best pictures and sources may do that. I think The Guardian still wants to lead the journalism section, wants to be an inspiring place for journalists centrally, but it absolutely wants to get other people involved in the story so I think it is the same as citizen journalism, just using a different term.
Rappler: Were you able to gather different news not only from various communities in London, but also from other countries?
Cummins: Yes, we try. My role in the Global Development site is that I spend a lot of my time thinking about how can I get people involved — if it’s a story about Brazil, how can I get Brazilians to come and comment and get involved. I might get in touch with journalists, NGOs (nongovernment organizations), or just contacts we’ve made over time, or sites, organizations I think may be interested on a particular story. So I’m very focused on trying to get people around the world involved.
Rappler: Can you cite specific examples where social media has been very helpful in linking The Guardian with journalists from different parts of the world — in the sense that an issue was better elucidated or clarified through inputs online?
Cummins: Yeah, definitely. One example — we have something up on Friday afternoon, and this is a classic example, we have something up on a Friday afternoon by an academic writing about Chinese finance in Latin America, and he mentioned 3 or 4 countries, including Ecuador. And then we have someone from Ecuador who got involved in the comments and told us a lot more details that made the story a lot more interesting about how this aspect of finance was working on the ground.
And sometimes we do a reader’s challenge where we’ll say we’d like you to write a couple hundred of words about ending violence against women and different readers will email in and we’ll publish a selection of those as a blog and have a debate underneath. For example, we did that one on ending gender violence and I think we had comments from Europe, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Pakistan. And that was a whole — you know, they were opinions, they wouldn’t be something you would write as a journalist above the line, but having those 4 different perspectives just created a sort of debate. The debate on that is very different because we had all those views to start with. That work’s pretty exciting.
Rappler: The thing with crowdsourcing is that you believe in the wisdom of crowds. But there’s also the danger of having just people really talk trash online. How do you deal with this?
Cummins: That is a brilliant question. I think that is part of something The Guardian and every other news organization is learning to do, and that is trying different things out, putting things out and seeing what people do. I’m biased because my job depends on it, but I think humans being involved, and reading the comments and spotting people who are continually making good contributions, and helping to talk to editors about that is a big part of it. We’ve just commissioned someone to write a blog for us, he’s a regular commenter on that site. I saw his e-mail when it came, he wanted to write in response to a story, and I recognized him. I said to our editors that this person has been commenting on the site for a year-and-a-half very consistently, he really knows what he’s talking about.
He really is who he says he is and where he says he is. So I’m a bit biased, but having a human get involved in the community and feed it to the editors is really important. And I guess that’s something that news communities and newspapers and journalists figure out based on the personality of each. – Rappler.com