Sunday, September 30, 2007

Australian Blogging Conference – Citizen Journalism

The conference continued after lunch and a launch of Dr Marett Leiboff’s book “Creative Practice and the Law”. I attended the session on “Citizen Journalism” with its panel of Axel Bruns, Graham Young and Rachel Cobcroft (picture credit: Mark Bahnisch at Facebook). Bruns opened the session. Dr Axel Bruns is a lecturer at the Creative Industries Faculty of conference host QUT. Bruns is an active researcher about blogs and their impact and is co-editor with Joanne Jacobs of a collection of scholarly articles called “Uses of Blogs”.

Bruns began by referring to Possums Pollytics (a site that was proving to be a very popular exemplar at several sessions at the conference). Bruns said “(possums pollytics) analyses polls from a scientific perspective rather than a Liberal Party perspective”. Bruns showed how the site forensically skewered a Christopher Pearson article in The Australian which framed the long list of unfavourable polls in a positive light for the Howard Government.

Bruns said the challenge for the blogosphere was to work together “rather than fighting each other”. From his research Bruns noted that the bulk of political blogs was left of centre but he had not come to any firm conclusions why this was the case. Possibilities included the fact that there was now more of a leaning to the left or perhaps simply that more people blogged from the left. Bruns then said that photojournalism might be an easier entry into citizen journalism. He used the example of the British Guardian newspaper’s Blair Watch project in the 2005 election. It ended up with a vast library of photos from the campaign.

Graham Young focussed on his latest project “Youdecide2007” which was actively seeking citizen journalists. Youdecide2007 is a user-driven forum for a seat-by-seat coverage of the 2007 Australian federal election. The project is led by the Creative Industries faculty at QUT, funded by the ARC, and supported by project partners SBS, On Line Opinion (OO), and the Brisbane Institute.

Young said Youdecide2007 will mine a similar territory to his OO site however while OO seeks elite opinion, the writers of Youdecide2007 will be “just like us”. He said the centralisation of media empires means there are fewer journalists on the ground especially in less populated areas. Youdecide2007 will use citizen journalists to report on their own electorates. It is slowly growing with 6,000 visitors this week up from 2,000 the week before. Young said “at this rate of progress, it will have more visitors than Online Opinion by the end of the election”.

The site has already had its first success with “Crategate”, an interview in Townsville with the Liberal member for Herbert Peter Lindsay. According to Margaret Simons in Crikey (27 September edition) Lindsay “perhaps had looser lips faced with a citizen than he would have had with a denizen of the Canberra Press Gallery”. Lindsay said issues of housing affordability were to do with the “financial illiteracy” of young people and their desire to have all the consumer goods too soon. He went on to say: “I’m just stating the facts... in years gone by people were more responsible. I remember in my own case we sat on milk crates in the lounge room until we could afford chairs.”

The “milk crate” quote formed the basis of a question in Parliament from Kevin Rudd to John Howard: “Does the Prime Minister agree with the Member for Herbert when he says that mortgage stress can be blamed on financially illiterate couples and his only advice to them is that they should sit on "milk crates in the lounge room" until they can afford chairs? Apart from the milk crate solution, what is your plan to deal with Australia's housing affordability crisis or is it simply to blame the states?" The Rudd quote got a run in a number of mainstream media outlets.

Young said the affair was not an unconditional victory for Rudd but it does show the potential power of citizen journalism. Young went on to walk the conference participants through the Youdecide2007 site and said more work needed to be done to differentiate between “premium” and “raw” content and to populate the news archive, media releases and opinion archive. Young said the site “did not encourage too much opinion, there is already too much around”. Rachel Cobcroft was then supposed to walk through a presentation on her PhD thesis about user-led content creation in Unfortunately, technical gremlins forced her to cancel the demo.

The final session of the day was called “the future for your blog: promoting your blog and building traffic” led by Des Walsh and Yaro Starak. Des Walsh is a business coach and self confessed “blogging fanatic” while Yaro Starak is a young entrepreneur who has managed many Internet start-up businesses since the late 1990s. Walsh and Starak provided a host of great tips and websites to explore to increase blog traffic including Frappr maps article marketing, digg, stumbleupon!, digital point, ning, blogrush, blog carnivals and many others.

After the conference, I joined several bloggers who took the opportunity to continue the discussions at the nearby Normanby hotel. See the following sites for more thoughts about the day. David Novakovic, Duncan McLeod, Kate Davis, Suzie Cheel, Peta Hopkins and Bogosity.

1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

Very interesting post. Since you're interested in citizen journalism and blogging, perhaps you'll want to check out the Knight News Challenge - You can win funding for your projects and ideas.

For more information, you can check out the site I mentioned and the blog my name links too.