Saturday, 9 January 2010

Citizen journalism goes from light flurry to avalanche and the forecast is good ... very good

Fed up of the snow yet?  Yeah, me too.

But this current British cold snap just may well go a long way to thaw those anti-webbers' attitudes to digital - thanks to citizen journalism.

Since the first day the white stuff started to fall, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Daily Post and the sister district titles (Wirral News, Southport Visiter, Ormskirk & Skelmersdale Advertiser, Formby Times, Crosby Herald, Bootle Times and Maghull & Aintree Star) have been running a liveblog giving out the very latest traffic and travel news, as well as the all important school closures.

But instead of the service being a 'you ask us the question and we'll give you the answer' type service, it quickly turned into 'you ask us the question and 10 other people will give you the answer before we've even had time to put the call in'.

I don't want to use the term, but I will - the liveblog was sourcing the crowd.

Another benefit of this type of wiki-journalism has been that we have been able to build up a comprehensive picture of what conditions are like throughout Merseyside from grassroots to region, with comments such as:

"The buses may be running, but they're not getting up Upper Parliament Street. There's two there now abandoned after spending the last 45 minutes wheel spinning."

"Just had a call from my daughter's school, Woodlands, and they say they're going to be closed tomorrow."

It's become a clear and comprehensive source of information for every community in the county - and the stats for users proved the point, particularly as many official sources' sites, such as the travel authorities and local councils either ironically collapsed due to the weight of traffic or failed to update with sufficient information.

So what we have seen thanks to the snow is people flooding on to the sites across Mersyeside in record numbers because they identify that the established news outlets are still the primary information providers. News as information - now there's a novel idea.

But when they've arrived at the sites, they haven't just been consumers of news, they've actually become the providers of the news.

An invaluable collective intelligence.

Nothing we didn't know before I know, but a blinding light of revelation for the curmudgeonly inkies.

"Hmm, so this is what citizen journalism is."


Louise Bolotin said...

This was happening in Manchester to a certain extent this past week, too. The Manchester Evening News website already had a live updating widget on a weather page before Christmas when the snow first started. That was reinstated big time this week and used their own information as well as aggregated tweets. MEN actively asked tweeters to hashtag their tweets so they could collate them. Certainly when I set out for work on Tuesday, I used MEN while still at home to get the initial picture then relied on Twitter to keep me updated while on the move.

I'm currently working at BBC Radio Manchester - they have a Twitter account but failed to use it (something I plan to revolutionise while I'm there). However, their news reporting was excellent - they had the best info on traffic (using jam cams as well as other sources), shut schools, the hospital situation etc. They also encouraged people to phone in and report on their areas - again, citizen journalism in action. Early unofficial figures indicate listening figures were up beyond all expectations as people tuned in.

There's no substitute for local media in such a situation.

Kevin Matthews said...

Hi Louise,

I agree, local media is unparalleled when it comes to being able to get relevant information out to its communities. And they are unparalleled for communities to be able to get their information out to the region.

The Liverpool and Merseyside titles also set up a hashtag (#merseysnow) to allow reader to contribute to the liveblog while out and about and on the go.

Good luck with your work with the BBC - just don't do too good a job!