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Social and community reporters - with other digital gardeners

September 16, 2009

I’ve been encouraging people who are coming to the workshop on Monday to preview any idea they want to raise … so here’s mine. It’s about the new roles we’ll need for local communication and collaboration … the bundles of skills, attitudes, enthusiasms people will need to make the new tech tools work. In particular the community and social reporters.\

We’ll certainly need the visionaries inside and outside government who are thinking in the round as traditional local media reduces staffing or closes; as public services go online and data is (hopefully) released for others to use; as some activists become sophisticated in using social media and promoting their causes, while others find their voice less heard.\

We can do with help in reflecting on just what we are trying to achieve by promoting local blogging and online communities: campaigning, conversation, innovative projects, better connections, great community coherence. When someone asks in the community “why should I bother with your social whatsit” what do you say?\

So - we need strategists who can see the bigger picture, and explain what’s possible.\

We also need the bloggers and community managers who set up systems for themselves and others, and then do all the day-to-day work of recruiting others, encouraging contributions, making links, doing the daily digital housekeeping.\

They may need social media developers to evolve and tweak the tools\

The managers, and others in the community who are learning news tools, will benefit hugely from digital mentors: people with technical skills who don’t grab the mouse, but are patient in helping people figure out how to achieve what they need, and then do it for themselves next time around.\

I’ve taken these roles from an excellent post by Steph Gray. He’s writing about digitalengagement from the perspective of Government, but I think the core roles hold true in any area of activity.\

Of course, people may have to occupy more than one role - wear more than one hat. The digital communication and engagement roles have to sit amidst the many others in a local community … the gossips, connectors, organisers of events, writers of newsletters … who may themselves learn new skills. We need a blend of communication methods and activities - a media ecology. New species have to live with, and cross fertilise, others in the garden. For that to work we need some sensitive digital gardening, as I wrote here.\

There’s one role I’m particular glad to see Steph adding: that of social reporter. Steph focusses on this role as someone who is a “Prolific writer, interviewer and conversationalist, able to convey the spirit of an event through digital tools …” adding that they are typically good at “Rapid, high quality conversational writing, film-making and interviewing, real world networking, fast turnaround editing and publishing”. I can identify with that, and - with others - have done quite a bit at events and on other occasions.\

However, I think we can extend the role of social reporting to include looking for stories across different online and face-to-face networks, facilitating conversations, helping people find their voices online. At the local level community reporter may be a better term, and based in Manchester People’s Voice Media are setting the standard for the training that’s needed to help people become the community-friendly journalists of the future.\

We have an enormous amount to learn from the work that Paul Bradshaw, Nick Booth and other are doing in Birmingham with projects like Help Me Investigate.\

Gary Copitch, who has done an amazing job developing People’s Voice Media and the community reporter programme, can’t make it on Monday, but he, I and Mark Walker from SCIP are talking to Jessica Medling of the Media Trust about how social and community reporting may figure in the Community Voices programmes. You’ll find us in the socialreporter group on this network. Do join us.\

I think we all agree that what’s needed is a training programme with backup toolkits, and a network for social and community reporters to share their experience and evolve this new role. Clare White first promoted this idea to the Ministry of Justice Building Democracy Project, but didn’t secure funding. Maybe just ahead of its time.\

In addition, I think that social reporting is one of the ways in which we can connect up the national programmes and local projects who are meeting on Monday with others around the country, and in other countries.\

I’ve started to collect links about community and social reporting here on our wiki.\

Just to start the discussion: do you think community and social reporting is important for local communities? What other roles are important - and how might they be developed and supported?

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