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CPB releases CSM report on best practices in digital journalism

This week, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting released a report authored by Center for Social Media researchers as part of a suite of CPB-supported research and discussions related to public media 2.0. Titled Scan and Analysis of Best Practices in Digital Journalism In and Outside U.S. Public Broadcasting, it examines the current environment for online reporting projects, and lays out eight best practices for news producers to consider:

  • Involve: Use digital platforms to provide information, motivation, and tools for users to participate in current affairs debates and related communities.
  • Go deeper: Integrate databases, maps, conversation tools, and video and audio extras to give users the information they crave by adding expanded coverage, or take on in-depth specializations such as investigative reporting or science news.
  • Reach new and non-traditional publics: Use digital platforms to engage with more targeted networks of users who share common identities, problems, issues or interests, including minority, ethnic, and low-income publics that are often underserved.
  • Repurpose, remix, recycle: Repurpose content by shifting it from one platform to another or aggregating news and data focused on specific issues. This helps build the layered information attractive to users.
  • Collaborate: Maximize resources focused on shared issues, locations, and user communities by involving different media outlets as well as related organizations, institutions, and publics.
  • Enable media literacy: Help users participate by teaching them how to take advantage of new media resources and become more frequent, more effective users.
  • Play with form to innovate and integrate new technologies: Innovate with new formats, interfaces, and platforms for delivering news and information and for fostering audience engagement.
  • Promote political discussion and participation: Political issues spark rigorous discussions and inspire action. Take advantage of the opportunity to strengthen connections to users by informing them how to get involved, who to contact, and where to participate.

Led by Center for Social Media Director Pat Aufderheide, the research team included myself and Research Fellows Matt Nisbet and Katie Donnelly. Carin Dessauer, a senior fellow at iFOCOS, conducted additional research on political and commercial journalism practices. We developed initial best practices by surveying recent reports, conference proceedings and reporting projects, and then verified and deepened descriptions of these best practices through in-depth interviews with 10 experts in new media reporting. We then illustrated each best practice with descriptions of a variety of related digital journalism projects.

In many cases, the journalism experts we consulted offered analyses that echoed the conclusions of our February white paper, Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics. Bill Densmore, who directs the Media Giraffe project, emphasized that user participation is central to the public service aspect of public media: “People feel really shut out of the content process, and if there is a way to involve more along content creation, productions, forums, discussions, and follow-ups—the whole life of content—the public should be included in that process in a better, more meaningful way." American University's Chuck Lewis, who heads up the Investigative Reporting Workshop, predicted a bright future for digital news: “I believe over the next few years, we will be able to do really spectacular national and international reporting projects, using thousands of citizens to assist in the process. I am talking about a directed project where you combine the seasoned experience of journalists with the knowledge and astonishing eclectic range that citizens can provide, melding that together with responsible, careful, and fact-checked projects.” And Lee Rainie, who directs the Pew Internet & American Life Project, observed:

The best news organizations allow citizens to contribute directly to news stories. They provide space and tools to allow the wisdom of crowds and the immediacy of direct crowd observation to show up in their content. Citizens post pictures, text and videos of breaking news story that provide eyewitness observation that is otherwise missed when credentialed reporters are not on the scene. In addition, citizen involvement allows coverage of things that would not be otherwise covered…It’s one thing to allow letters to the editor. In the Internet age, it’s quite another thing for news organizations to be involved in active and ongoing conversation with those who “consume” their news. This is [the] age of transparency for all organizations, including news operations. So, the most forward-thinking news organizations explain themselves and then listen and react seriously and respectfully when members of their audience have further things to say.

Our scan also confirmed that public broadcasting outlets still have a ways to go in adapting to this new news environment. There have been many vibrant experiments in the field, however. We note these in the CPB report, and have documented many at greater length in our Public Media Showcase. We hope that this report will inform and spur yet more—and more sophisticated—public media 2.0 projects.