How do you get context to trend?

Who’s a reporter anyway these days? My blog can get me a press pass but it doesn’t mean I follow a journalist’s ethical framework. The members of the Smart Global Communications panel at one of  the Social Good Summit‘s morning masterclasses discussed the increasingly blurry line between news and activism.

The panel included Claire Wardle of UNHCR, Stephen Keppel of Univision, Niall Dunne of BT and Bryn Mooser, co-founder of the  new news outlet RYOT. Rajesh Mirchandani of BBC News moderated.

Traditional media outlets are beginning to help their audience to act on stories and participate in the news while aid organizations are starting to create content themselves. Both changes are due to different parts of web 2.0. Social media allows viewers to respond to stories and and to send in their own reports. The Internet has also led to the decimation of newspapers and in turn, a sharp reduction in the number of foreign correspondents available to cover breaking stories.

Wardle described how UNHCR has stepped into the void to create coverage of internal crises. She said initially they were happy when news outlets would use their photos or a quote. Now news organizations are routinely embedding entire clips by UNHCR in their stories. As Wardle pointed out, while news organizations may have one or two reporters at most in Syria, UNHCR has hundreds of staff on the ground.

According to Mirchandani the aims of UNHCR are not necessarily at odds with the role of journalists. “You can be an advocate without being an apologist,” he said.  RYOT is actively encouraging this sort of participatory journalism.

“We’re installing in our newsroom the idea of solutions journalism,” Mooser said. RYOT seeks to distinguish itself by integrating a call to action into every story. Mooser and the other panelists repeated both the concept that “good stories will trend” and the idea that detailing ways that the audience can participate is the best way to increase engagement. Yet despite the tech-positive tone of Social Good Summit, social media does not inherently improve discourse and news coverage. Memes and shocking anecdotes are more likely to gain attention than considered reporting. If I retweet, does that mean that I understand?