People powered journalism
I’ve been noodling on an idea, and that’s a potentially troublesome thing. It causes me to lose sleep. Maybe it will also cause readers to stop what they are supposed to be doing to think about it as well.
Here are the premises to my noodling:
- Today’s media are disappointing , especially in the presentation of news. They are sensationalist, not investigative. Reports are aimed for emotional sizzle, not quality of information. Issues are often one-sided to create conflict and assure another combative report tomorrow from the other side. Producers and publishers are desperate for audience or circulation so they can charge advertisers more. Some have sold their editorial policy to the highest bidder. They sacrifice fairness, information and even good journalism ethics to the altar of titillation, gore and conflict . . . and profit. The result is that Filipinos are poorly informed and wired emotionally by erroneous information. The nation suffers from a lack of unity and has a negative, complaining, critical mind-set.
- Most Filipinos spend a lot of leisure time on Facebook or other social platforms. That is where they read, laugh, share, interact and find out what is going on. They may look at a newspaper if they are in Manila at the coffee shop, but they more often get their updates on news filtered through their “friends” or the people they follow, on line. It is a massive, unorganized sifting and filtering of information, raising up those stories deemed popular. Information is often top-line, a little beyond headlines, perhaps, but not detailed. Boring but informative stories are seldom passed along.
- Blogging in the Philippines is a collective of individuals doing their thing. It is not all that it can be because it is a lot of separate publications, each with a circulation of maybe 5,000 readers tops. It is not 10 blogs integrated into one platform with circulation of 50,000. Most readership is gained through Facebook. Articles generally are pushed out when a blog is published and are picked up and shared by a number of readers. Every once in a while, an article goes “viral”, attracting thousands and thousands of reads.
- We see news outlets like Rappler that have done away with paper. Their focus is on a steady stream of articles . . . news and features . . . some with depth, others just keeping up with current events, and explicitly tapping into the emotional quality of the news (they have a “mood meter” for each story). I suspect “circulation” is far below that of, say, the Inquirer, but they run cheap, make their mark and are often quoted or shared in social media.
- The Society of Honor by Joe America has a sound and growing readership among homeland readers and opinion-makers (politicians, business executives, professors, attorneys) as well as overseas Filipinos. It is characterized by informative, insightful or provocative articles and the accompanying discussion threads that are among the best in the Philippines. Reach is around 2,500 reads for a typical article, 15,000 for a “resonant” article, and 40,000 to 150,000 for a “viral” article. The blog has no advertising, no agenda, and no affiliations other than to promote the well-being of the Philippines. It is considered objective, but with a pro-Aquino leaning (explained by the judgment that President Aquino has been very good for the well-being of the nation).
If we mush these premises together and run them through the synthesis strainer, we can come up with the following conclusions:
- Newsprint is a dying business and radio and television are highly commercialized or politicized, which explains the sensationalist angle of news reporting aimed at raising circulation and drawing audience. Journalistic reporting is not done, in the main, in the Philippines. Journalism requires objective and informational reports and it is expensive. News is emotionalized in the Philippines, and the audience likes it that way.
- A certain segment of the population wants news and information that is straight and helpful, rather than articles that are shallow or “playing” them as subjects or puppets. That’s why many readers go to The Society of Honor. They want help with the development of their own objective insights and concept formulation.
- Facebook and other social media are the untamed wild lands of information transmission. This is a huge accumulation of audience not going anywhere, really. Just thriving.
The process of news publication
If we step back a pace, we can ask: “What are the crucial elements of news reporting?”
- Content: the stories themselves.
- Distribution: the readership or listening/viewing audience.
- The business: costs out, revenue in.
- Quality: Timeliness, thoroughness and objectivity for news, quality of insights for analysis.
Question. “Is there a place for a totally different news distribution outlet?”
What if we design a new news organization, a place for people to go to get informed objectively:
- Organize content and collect it at one point; a loose union of bloggers and news reporters.
- Distribute articles through social media. Build a roster of dedicated distributors. Seek to raise readership to an upper end of 500,000 or more.
- Throw away the business component and rely only on volunteers.
- Provide news on the go.
We can forget the commercial aspects of the venture and focus on content, distribution and timeliness. This must be a volunteer effort free from any bias or preference.
So let’s “What if” this egg to see if it might hatch. Let’s incubate it with visions and speculations.
Let’s say we develop a roster of certified contributors, building it to include bloggers and news reporters across the nation. This may or may not require contributors to give up their own name blog or news venture as they become subordinate to, or a part of, the united effort. For example, the Society of Honor becomes a part of the bigger, united effort and JoeAm drops his own blog. Or maybe he keeps it. (Does it matter?) Can you imagine a publication that has as its contributors MLQ3, Raissa Robles, Cocoy, JoeAm, “J”, The Professional Heckler, Irineo B. R. Salazar, Edgar Lores, FilipiKnow, CMFR, Chempo, Yvonne, Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, Cha, and other known and as-yet-undiscovered contributors? Plus news reports filed from field reporters, with aliases allowed to certified contributors (who may work for other news outlets)?
- The new news organization needs a way to attract and certify quality writers, researchers and reporters. It needs formal “sign on” by contributors.
- It needs a format and a way to headline articles, with multiple articles coming in daily, discussion threads attached.
- It needs a way for contributors to self-publish their articles.
- It needs editorial standards and guidelines as well as publication policies and procedures.
- It needs a single master-editor responsible for the whole shebang.
Without question, Facebook is the medium that generates the most reads for articles at The Society of Honor. Twitter is also influential. An article goes “viral” when it is picked up by the “Big Names” of each medium. For example, when Jim Paredes on Twitter mentions an article (which he does on occasion), it goes to 954,000 of his followers. When Cynthia Patag on Facebook shares an article (which she does frequently), it goes to about 40,000 followers who, themselves, have thousands and thousands of followers. She is a major reason for the success of the blog. Leah Navarro (Twitter, 18,000 followers) is another major producer of reads for the blog.
The goals of the venture we are discussing would be:
- Formalize the association of these “Big Names” with the project. That is, gain their endorsement and willingness to actively promote articles they deem as particularly meaningful.
- Recruit more “Big Name” distributors, or people with 10,000 followers or more. Go beyond the “LP list” that is attached to the Society of Honor.
This idea crystallized as I was typing a recent blog “Enrile’s Mamasapano hearing an ‘epic fail’“. It went a bit viral, with 27,000 reads during the two days after the hearing. I was typing as the hearing was still going on and I pushed “publish” as Trillanes was still at the microphone and before the AFP started their slide show roast of General Napenas.
It struck me that I had an advantage over the mainstream press and even Rappler because I did not have to go through an editor. Type it, edit it, slap in a photo for the home page, and get it out. The social media followers of the blog would act as a real-time editor and decide if it was worth sharing.
It apparently was.
Maybe that is the style we are looking for. Quick, rolling content. Not a daily publication. Steady flow of material. Relying on quality contributors to publish quality content. Relying on the distribution team to decide what should be passed along. They would represent the editorial filter. An article either passes muster, or it does not.
Audience and name
The goal would be to push beyond opinion makers and avid readers to reach the Facebook and social media crowds. The upside is tremendous, as the push-out would be much more active than, say, the Inquirer’s pull-driven sensationalism. The goal? Nothing short of becoming the People’s primary “news and insights” publication.
The name should reflect that ambition:
The Philippine Peoples’ Chronicle, a collaboration. News and insights for a rising nation.