Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Community News Hub Launch - Article

Community News Hub launched with Guardian Local

An innovative new project to encourage people to get involved in local news has opened its doors at Leeds Trinity University College.

The Leeds Community News Hub was launched by Meg Pickard, head of digital engagement for Guardian News and Media, who talked about the importance of connecting communities with the news.

The Hub, which is being hosted by Leeds Trinity, aims to encourage communities and groups to get more involved in the local news agenda and to collaborate on stories and content ideas. It is working in association with Guardian Local, whose beatblogger John Baron has been working in the city since earlier this year.

Catherine O'Connor, Head of the Centre for Journalism at Leeds Trinity, opened the event by talking about how changes in the news media meant there was a constant need for reflect ion on the role of educating the next generation of journalists, and beyond.

“We have always expected our students to go out into the community, understand what is going on around them and make their own contacts. But, now, we are looking to change the dynamics by giving community groups and organisations access to experts and events which we hope will help to encourage people to get more involved with the local news agenda.”

Meg Pickard spoke about the need to identify different communities, and warned about the trap that other news organisations have fallen into of assuming an 'audience' of consumers can be described as a community.

Although a target market might be geographically close, have a combined desire or be striving for a similar objective, the key to defining them is whether or not they are communicating with one another, she said.

The premise behind the Community News Hub is to identify, engage, and then work with communities rather than treat them as mute consumers or sources.

'User-generated content' was described by Meg as and “ugly and inaccurate” phrase which should be abandoned because it failed to describe the honest desire to tweet, blog, publish a photo, and so on. It described a sterile line of progression, a consumer-led story that is outdated at a time when more people are waking up to the opportunities presented by collaborative work.

Meg stressed the need for the media to provide the tools, the platforms, and the inspiration to bring the community's stories to light, but then not get in the way of that story being told –a positive message at a time when the debate between pure and citizen journalism, or blogging, is still dominant in the press.

She spoke about how the Guardian developed a tool to allow readers to sort through the files released on MPs expenses, encouraging the user to “audit their own MP” and highlight the contentious figures in the piles of online Treasury paperwork. Meg candidly admitted: “We would not be able to hire enough people to do that much work.” In total, 27,000 unique users helped to sort valuable data from the overall picture and allowed the Guardian to dig much deeper into the scandal. More importantly, she stressed, the paper was not aiming for an old-fashioned scoop, but the opportunity to show a personal connection between constituent and MP.

One of the questions from the audience was whether this form of 'crowd-sourcing', using reader help to work through vast amounts of data, was exploitative and endangered the careers of regular journalists. Meg defended the concerned citizens who engaged in their expenses stories as “not journalists”, but rather analysts of the data, highlighting the relevant areas for a Guardian reporter to investigate in greater depth.

In a blog about the event, Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley said: “This is a hub for anyone interested in local news for Leeds – not a space owned or operated by The Guardian, instead a hosted space for the benefit of the local community where knowledge, expertise and skills can be accessed.”

Read the tweets from the launch here.

See what the Set the World at Nought blog had to say about the event here

By Tim Hood

This is also featured on the Leeds Trinity Website

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