Fiona Morgan and Ryan Thornburg issued a call to arms for citizens to become the media in today’s Raleigh News and Observer. Thornburg expanded the idea with a list of steps that communities can take to fill the gaps in news as legacy institutions operate with smaller staffs.
The call to action is remarkable in these respects: It comes from two people in academia, without financial interest in seeing more citizen participation in the media, and it calls for journalistic thinking from ordinary people. It also focuses on North Carolina and local civic news.
When news organizations, local governments or new marketing websites ask for participation from ordinary people these days, many folks react with cynicism:
“Oh, they just want free content.”
And for coders who can help parse data, the cynicism is even greater. These folks get paid to code, and we’re asking them to work for free?
But the call to action from people outside the media shows the civic pain at a time when distrust of institutions runs high. Morgan and Thornburg also bring theory down to specifics.
What I don’t want to see from their call to action: Yet another conference. We have plenty, even in North Carolina, planned for 2011.
What I would like to see: Specific projects or small meetups, with cross-discipline teams, aimed at small slices of the news ecosystem that are uncovered now.
At the same time, we have to find ways to pay ourselves for the work. Foundations and nonprofits can jump-start projects, but finding business models is part of the challenge.
Fiona Morgan’s study of the news ecosystem in the Triangle. The report is long, but worth at least skimming for an understanding that news comes from a complex system rather than one place.