How to microblog in high heels

A geek girl's guide to social media and online engagement

How can online communities assist and enhance traditional journalism? Some notes

On Wednesday this week I’ll be taking part in a panel event run by City University’s Interactive journalism students (they go by the name of ‘interhacktives‘ online) about how community engagement can enrich journalism. 

Also on the panel will be Nick Petrie, my counterpart at the Times, Sarah Drinkwater who runs Google Local, and MSN International editor Tom (aka flashboy) Phillips who also runs Is Twitter Wrong?

The Q&A discussion hopes to answer the following questions:

  • How can online communities assist and enhance traditional journalism?
  • What does a community manager actually do?
  • Which are the most useful social media and online tools?

For my part I will be drawing on three particular examples – both recent and long term – which I think exemplify how engaging with online communities can enhance your journalism. 

Last week Amelia Gentleman wrote an excellent piece of longform journalism looking at those affected by the government’s introduction of the spare bedroom tax. In a harmonious linkup between community engagement and journalism – all the case studies in the piece came from a community engagement exercise we had been running since January on the communities desk to hear the voices of those affected by the government’s changes to welfare. We started weekly Twitter chats called #gdnchat with our news editor Claire Phipps mainly to speak to many of our community members who had been highly engaged on the welfare reform live blog, but since we stopped doing the liveblog last year didn’t really have a space to speak to us. We held #gdnchats on different topics, and our followers became strong story advocates – spreading the word the Guardian was listening. Someone from the Bushbury Hill housing association was a participant in that first Twitter chat and we were able to put him in touch with Amelia who went to the estate to see what was happening. We continue to gain new leads, insights, case studies and knowledge from the #gdnchats.

The second example which required little extra input and time from the newsdesk or journalism in question (community engagement need not always be taxing!) was James Ball’s story on ethnic minority applications to Oxbridge. With a little insight from James, we thought to reach out to our existing communities of readers at the Guardian to find case studies relating to the story. Traditional journalism, just helped through online channels. Through the right shaping of the question (language here is so important), and seeding the callout to various communities, we managed to get some great feedback from those directly affected which will be weaved into followups and a further feature on the topic.

The final example is one which has been running over the last year and a half, but through tireless engagement with the community has continued to feed up new leads, new stories and even change the law. It’s Shiv Malik’s investigations into the government’s work schemes which I mentioned in my last blogpost. Cait Reilly was a Guardian reader and came from the community – and we continued to spread the word through engaging with readers in comments, reaching out on Twitter and seeding the stories to groups on the web who we thought would be interested.

These are great examples of how communities online can enhance and assist traditional journalism. What a community manager actually does and the best social tools we use – you’ll have to turn up to the event to hear more on these.

If you’re interested in attending the event I think there might just be one or two tickets left. You can book here.

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