journalism or science experiment?

Issue: Trust, authenticity and accuracy

Technology: Participatory journalism

Article: How Participatory Journalism Turns News Consumers into Collaborators” by Olivia Koski

Up until recently, the journalistic process has required, in short, the work of a journalist, an editor, and a consumer. The journalist reports on the news, the editor reviews the news, and the consumers believe the news. Handed a paper in the morning on the way to work, citizens have been expected to take the news for what it is and trust that what they are reading is as accurate as possible. But how much information can one or two journalists really conjure up about an issue? How do you know that the widest possible number of opinions and experiences have been called upon to tell the story as close to the truth as possible?

Journalism should be like a science experiment.

In a science experiment, you first generate a testable hypothesis, or a question to study. Then you make a prediction and lay out the variables. With the preparation done it is time to record the data; doing as many trials as possible, assessing as many people as possible, to get the most careful and accurate information. Once the data is complete, and a final analysis is made, only then can you make your conclusion.

Journalists should want to be as accurate as possible, to receive information from as many people as possible, and to give their readers even more of a reason to believe their work. At least, this is what Olivia Koski portrayed in her article “How Participatory Journalism Turns News Consumers into Collaborators.”

In her article she told the story of Julia Kumari Drapkin, a climate reporter, who set up a project called iSeeChange to include citizens “in every stage in the climate reporting process.” Using a radio show and text-messaging service, she “went on air to ask listeners to submit their unusual observations and questions about the local climate.”

By providing these citizens with opportunities to share their experiences and discuss their questions with experts, ISeeChange became “a living farmer’s almanac online.” As a reporter, she gave up her rights as the sole source of information, and relied on the in-depth knowledge of the listeners to tell the story.

This take on journalism, however, is not a mere replacement of the need for journalists, and the audience is definitely not suddenly regarded as a professional newsroom. Experts continue to report, fact-check, and synthesize information — but the role of the audience has changed. Now the audience is a resource; a resource for stories, perspectives, and information never sought after before.

So I think journalism should be like a science experiment. The audience represents the trials, the data, and the balance of information. Then the reporters analyze the facts to make a conclusion, and form a theory never been thought of before. As Koski states in her article, “journalists that … recognize the audience as a resource … can use it to pursue otherwise impossible-to-report stories. The process begins in the same way lots of journalism begins: with a question.”

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