Last week Guardian journalist and Washington DC correspondent Paul Lewis visited Schibsted Journalism Academy in Oslo.
Besides speaking briefly at the Schibsted Journalism Awards and giving a speech at the breakfast seminar the following day, he was leading two workshops with journalists from across the Schibsted Media Group.
His message was clear: It is time to rethink the relationship between the journalist and the reader.
“In every project we looked at on these workshops, whether it was using Twitter to investigate death or using a partnership with a university to investigate the England riots, we were doing as much as we could to think outside the confines of a newsroom and to use resources outside. It requires some adjustments, but I think the dividends are really significant since we gain so much journalistically. The boundaries between sources, readers and journalists are becoming blurred and that is a good thing,” he said.
Kristin Grøntoft, head of social media in Aftenposten, found that the workshops provided her with new ideas on to how to cover ongoing news stories and have the audience help investigate.
“It is very interesting to get the concrete examples of how we can use social media to develop news stories. His articles on The London Riots would have been completely different if he did not use Twitter to open up for the audience and listening to them, using their knowledge and keeping them informed. He is involving the readers and users in a way that gives you plentiful back,” Kristin said.
She believes there are several things to learn from the way Paul Lewis is working.
“I think they have a more social way of working in The Guardian, they use the blog format in a different way, which opens up and brings the reader closer to the journalist. It builds credibility, trust and loyalty and it obviously is easier to give a tip to a journalist you know trust. It also builds a relationship to the reader when The Guardian owns the topic and they become experts together with readers. Without following Paul Lewis on Twitter and The Guardian website on this story, you would have missed out on the important events and what was really happening.”
In Paul Lewis’ opinion, the internet brings fascinating possibilities, particularly in the arena of social media. He also shared tweets and strategies that did not particularly well.
“My hope is that, by looking at some of the ways we have been using Twitter in the UK, there may have been some lessons learned. The more you share information, the more input you get and it makes you think slightly different about your job.”
He thinks Scandinavian media houses and journalists have come far in embracing new tools for reporting.
“I was really impressed by a lot of what I was told here, particularly around push notifications and ways to get user generated material from a specific geographical area like Aftonbladet is doing with its app. The Schibsted papers are ahead of its time in many fronts. You are in a very good position.”
However, he also wanted to challenge what he sees as a traditional way of thinking:
“I get a sense that there is more resistance to changing to the idea of what journalism is. You are willing to change technologically, but you still maintain a very strict, traditional conception of what a journalist is and how they should do their job. New tools ‘yes’, but the job is the same. I think that is going to have to change over time.”
He mentioned our strict division between commentary and reporting. For him, it is key to have a personal voice both in social media and his live blog to develop a dialogue with the readers. As he points out, the three most retweetet Twitter accounts during the England riots were all people with a name and a personal voice, not BBC or The Guardian’s official accounts.
Social media is exactly that: SOCIAL.
“I understand the reason for doing it, but I just think that on the web the nature of the competition has changed so much that we all have to be aware that the distinctions we have in mind are not necessarily the ones that matters to readers. If we are going to remain engaging and relevant, then we need to adapt,” he said.
Journalist Atle Jørstad from VG attended both workshops and was particularly intrigued by the way Paul Lewis uses Twitter.
“Paul has given me a lot of inspiration. To see how he uses new techniques in order to crowdsource data and information that already exists was useful. I find it interesting to see how he openly asks for information and help to investigate, whereas we traditionally have been very reluctant to share work in progress with anyone outside. But in a way it really is back to basic; The story and finding out what really happened is paramount,” said Atle.
PRACTICAL TRAINING: At the workshop “Twitter, Social Media and Crowds that Investigate” the group worked in groups to train their journalistic social media skills.