Here’s a suggestion I recently received from a friend and Society Matters adviser: Spend less time critiquing National Geographic’s current business practices, and more time highlighting potential alternatives for the future.
To that end, I give you: The Guardian.
Editor Alan Rusbridger and his team have embraced what’s become known as “open journalism,” which emphasizes transparency, responsiveness, participation, collaboration, and connection.
Open journalism sees the now-familiar army of digitally-armed Davids as people who want to consume and produce media. As readers and as collaborators. Open journalism treats people not simply as eyeballs for advertisements, but as citizens who have a shared stake in what happens in their communities and in the world. Open journalism attempts to engage and empower readers and viewers — not as an after-thought, or to flatter them, but as a core part of the journalistic enterprise.
At The Guardian, open journalism means:
- the Newsdesk live: “Each day on the Newsdesk live blog, the Guardian’s national news team will bring you the news as we break it, explain how we choose what we report and why – and ask you to get involved.”
- Information gathered by The Guardian is made available to third parties via their API. (What’s an API?)
- Creative approaches to crowdsourcing investigations.
- The Reader’s Editor, whose job is “to collect, consider, investigate, respond to, and where appropriate come to a conclusion about readers’ comments, concerns, and complaints in a prompt and timely manner, from a position of independence within the paper.”
- Reporters and editors at The Guardian are accessible online.
- Amanda Michel.
- Executives at The Guardian — including leaders such as Mr. Rusbridger — are happy to explain, regularly and in public, what they’re trying to accomplish. (If only all media executives would open up their doors this way.)
- … and much more. (See Mathew Ingram’s “Guardian says open journalism is the only way forward” for a concise summary of the paper’s innovations and operating philosophy. See also: Nieman Journalism Lab’s Encyclo summary.)
The Guardian‘s efforts are built upon what Mr. Rusbridger has called “the mutualization of news”:
“By continuing to go down this route, we will be more diverse, and genuinely more plural than other media organisations and create a huge external resource. We need to continue breaking down the perceptions of a remote journalist who is a preacher, living distantly, and newspapers as being in bed with power and on the side of power, rather than the reader.
“On our side it means becoming even more transparent and accountable about our sources as well as increased humility. We need to get writers into the mindset where we tell less and listen more, not just in send mode but receive mode, where publishing an article is the beginning of a process and not the end of it.”
Open journalism and “mutualization” could also be a blessing for the National Geographic Society. We still have more than four million members, people who could become “a huge external resource.” We know who all these people are (thanks to our mailing list), so we could make a direct and personal appeal to them. We also have a long, proud history of showcasing the journalist as a “participant observer,” which is what we’d be asking members to be: To see their world not as a stage for a show they’re passively watching, but as a drama in which each of them – each of us — has been blessed with a speaking part.
So when Mr. Rusbridger says:
“The mutualisation of news is a very powerful idea that particularly works for the Guardian, as our relationship with our readers is very strong. We can use the community of our readers in ways we would not have been able to in the past.”
… well, I can’t help but wonder: Why isn’t Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic, talking this way?
More than four million members of the National Geographic Society await a Guardian-like call to arms — but it will require a commitment to transparency, responsiveness, participation, collaboration, and connection.
Question is: Who at NGS will step up and make that call?
You could do this.
For inspiration, we’re including a video The Guardian recently produced to illustrate the meaning of open journalism. It’s the story of the Three Little Pigs – reimagined for a digitally networked world (see below).
It shows that journalists can no longer simply stand up on their legacy stages with their legacy megaphones, and shout at their readers: Hey! People! Check out our rhino pix!
Because if we insist on telling stories that way, then our Society will meet the same fate as the Big Bad Wolf.