This is the year content claps back.
The goal of balancing the dynamism of social media and ethical, well curated journalism has been full of growing pains. Comments sections are being closed, and replaced with content culled from social media. Those platforms are made of diverse users who are more aware than ever of their influence and are challenging journalism on everything from its overwhelming whiteness to general trustworthiness.
People expect more. In 2016, readers will step up their pushback, and journalism will be better for it.
In 2014, Twitter user @steenfox created a powerful hashtag that had women sharing what they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted. A BuzzFeed article that collected those tweets, without receiving explicit permission for doing so, was heatedly discussed. When Poynter ethicist Kelly McBride published an analysis, users took to the comments to push back on the ethical considerations, creating a 100-plus comment thread. The expertise of journalism met the lived experiences of users.
When an article published this year on the Missouri protests accessed a locked Twitter account to share retweets from a professor, journalists Jamie Nesbitt Golden and Monique Judge pushed that discussion even further, reminding us not only of the humanity of social platform users but also of the ethics that journalists adhere to when covering sensitive stories. Declaring something “public interest because I say so” isn’t enough.
Meanwhile, Jessica Testa, author of the piece critiqued by @steenfox, created one of the better pieces of social journalism this year on BuzzFeed: an interview with the 13 women pressing charges against convicted sex offender Daniel Holtzclaw (TW for graphic detail), each woman sharing her own words, willingly. The difference in approach and then in reception were palpable.
There is a growing number of community centered tools and models that encourage more participatory interaction. Groundsource, for example, allows cellphone users to answer journalists’ questions via SMS. Hearken seeks to build stories based on community engagement through all phases of the reporting. The Public Insight Network allows users to declare themselves as sources and set their permissions. We at The Coral Project are making new open source tools to build stronger on-site communities.
In 2016, journalistic standards and practice are being pushed more into the open. Everything from freedom of the press to representation in media is on the table. Thanks to tools such as MuckRock and DocumentCloud, which show users how work is being done and allows them to participate, we’ll see even more projects based around community engagement and met with community critique.
This work is difficult and exciting. Readers care about what we do, so we need to harness that in ways that serve everyone’s needs and respects their lives. It’s time to turn some of that clapback into applause.