Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fostering a shift from competitive to cooperative news media: The concept of “radical transparency”


Traditional news reporting is about “secrecy,” according to David Crumm, veteran journalist and founder of ReadtheSpirit.com. Mainstream reporting has always revolved around the scoop: The key to success as a journalist or news broadcaster is having the breaking story before everyone else, succeeding at everyone else’s expense.

In this model, the idea that news agencies can be successful by cooperating with each other so all present valuable information that they work together to build on and improve for the benefit of the public is a foreign concept.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of journalists and other mass communicators who are breaking out of this mold.

Many of them are affiliated with the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC). One of the topics of the MPC’s most recent meeting was what Crumm calls “radical transparency”—also known as crowd-sourcing—in news reporting. The key concept is that “Almost every idea in the world is better if it’s out in the world,” Crumm described. A perfect example of this is ReadtheSpirit.com, which focuses primarily on news and interest columns about religion, spirituality, values, community, and culture. ReadtheSpirit.com has a disclaimer inviting people to share their content, even linking it to other sites. This sharing also enables others to refine it, as Crumm said, without treating information intended for the public’s use as intellectual property.

“There are plenty of bad things going on in Detroit, and there are plenty of good things going on in Detroit,” said David Ashenfelter, former Detroit News and Free Press reporter. He feels there’s enough going on for everyone to have something valuable to cover.

This cooperative news model is about the difference between agencies being in a hurry to get out a fantastic piece of news before everyone else does, without consulting anyone else on if this story is complete, true, and accurately-depicted, and agencies who offer their stories in dialogue with other groups in a sort of peer-review exchange while promoting each other’s content at the same time, to the benefit of all of them.

It’s a shift that shows trust for others, both the public and other agencies, Crumm pointed out. There’s no jealous hoarding of information, or striving to make it more entertaining or otherwise “news-worthy” so it’ll get attention through shock value.

Interfaith peace activist Daniel Buttry presents a better explanation for the problem with mainstream news media, than simply saying the mainstream doesn’t like “good” or “happy” news, seeming to thrive mainly on what shocks, frightens, disgusts, and entertains us.

He stated that the mainstream news media focus on crises: Much of the work being done by more cooperative media agencies and individuals focuses behind the scenes, which is important (though often overlooked) for putting the big news in context. The less “interesting,” behind-the-scenes stuff is what helps people truly understand what the major cultural milestones, public policy changes, government overthrows, wars, and peace revolutions around the world are really about.

Behind-the-scenes work is done on the “incremental level,” Buttry says; since the mainstream news focus is on speed of delivery, the mainstream news is actually incapable of covering the kinds of stories presented on ReadtheSpirit.com and discussed at MPC meetings, stories which show gradual change and the dawning of hope in our communities and the world at large.

This is a fascinating paradigm shift away from treating the news as intellectual property. The idea that would-be competitors are welcome to re-brand each others’ content, and even add material to it that speaks directly to their target audience, is presently an unfamiliar approach to most people accustomed to the more traditional competitive news approach.

As such, it’s an approach I look forward to seeing more and more. My hope is that gradually, this cooperative model will begin to infiltrate the mainstream news, and the mainstream news will no longer be restricted by its need for speed and will have the freedom to offer more well-rounded, well-informed, inclusive news coverage that truly serves as a complete history of the world, rather than a history of seemingly-isolated incidents taken out of context and thus not really helping people understand anything.


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Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; colored pencil, metallic gel pen, ball point pen, feathers, dried flower petals

2 comments:

  1. This new kind of broadcasting would be so much more useful and accurate. It's so hard to even believe most news broadcasts because they seem more like TV shows than reports. The kinds of facts they focus on are what they think most people will find exciting or controversial. Why else would Trump be talked about every time you turn on the radio! Even National Public Radio covers more about him than anyone else except for possibly Clinton. Tell me something I don't already know about. Teach me something useful!

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    1. Thank you for posting your comment, Ann!

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