Harnessing the power of the new Fourth Estate

with 8 comments

I spent this afternoon in Oxford talking to BBC journalists, producers and editors about the threats to public interest journalism and the Fourth Estate (imagine how few news organisations would not only make time to talk about this, but where journalists would turn up and discuss it – good old BBC), and realised – after having left, that I’d forgotten to talk about the exciting bit. There’s so much to worry about in news it’s easy to forget that the revolution in media is as exciting as it is scary.

Central to this – and where the BBC plays a critical role – is the reconstitution of what’s traditionally been known as the ‘Fourth Estate’. What I mean by this is the massive explosion in the number of people doing what they consider journalism, but who don’t call themselves journalists. Maybe they take the occasional photo and send it to the BBC, or write a blog about an event they go to, or do some digging about some local scandal.

The exciting bit, and the bit I hope the BBC will play a big part in, is harnessing this amazing explosion by giving people the tools and advice to help them become informal constituents of this new Fourth Estate. This occurred to me when on the way back I was reading excerpts from Demos’ study about the ‘Pro-Am Revolution’:

“…in the last two decades” Demos writes, “a new breed of amateur has emerged: the Pro-Am, amateurs who work to professional standards. These are not the gentlemanly amateurs of old – George Orwell’s blimpocracy, the men in blazers who sustained amateur cricket and athletics clubs. The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive, and low cost”

Imagine if the BBC built the tools to enable these ‘Pro-Ams’ to do some of the jobs journalists would like to do but just don’t have time: to search through health statistics, to look at local councillors records, to look at public sector budgets. Many might use them just for their own benefit, but in doing so they could turn up things no single journalist would have time to look for. MySociety have built tools like this to enable people to scrutinize MPs (TheyWorkForYou), and more recently on to report local problems – FixMyStreet (broken drains, cracked pavements).

Isn’t this something the BBC could do too? And, if it did, wouldn’t it harness the power of an army of local and specialist journalists?

Written by Martin Moore

September 26th, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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8 Responses to 'Harnessing the power of the new Fourth Estate'

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  1. The BBC must not encroach on the gap in the market identified by MySociety. It has done similar things far too often in the past. Instead, it should use its considerable resources to help shift more ams to pros and/or give over more of its content distribution channels to pro/ams


    27 Sep 07 at 8:11 am

  2. Where do you see the BBC’s Action Network fitting in to all this?

    Nic Price

    1 Oct 07 at 1:31 pm

  3. That’s a very good question Nic – where is the BBC’s Action Network? It seemed to disappear in the haze of BBC Online. Has it ever been promoted? Has it taken off anywhere?

    Martin Moore

    1 Oct 07 at 8:44 pm

  4. I’m not sure what the status of Action Network is. I’m not at the BBC any more but I’ll see what I can find out.I put my postcode in and found two people registered for the borough of Southwark in London. I’m not sure how representative that is of other UK places.

    Nic Price

    2 Oct 07 at 12:06 pm

  5. Martin,I agree with your sentiments that”There’s so much to worry about in news it’s easy to forget that the revolution in media is as exciting as it is scary.But as journalists one must recognise the dangers as well.Citizen journalists can pose a number of threats to media organisations.No more so than the legal dangers of people working technically for a media but no necesssarily having the training associated with journalism.

    Nigel Barlow

    8 Oct 07 at 7:16 am

  6. That’s true Nigel – citizen journalists don’t often have the training, which is exactly why we need to think about the ‘pro-am’ concept developed by Demos. Given that people will self-publish, how can they/we be given tools (& training?) if they want to self-publish ‘journalism’?

    Martin Moore

    9 Oct 07 at 4:38 pm

  7. According to ICELE the Action Network is going to close. I think that’s another reason for you to promote a different model, as I suggest here.


    13 Oct 07 at 6:12 pm

  8. Why do I suspect that you wouldn’t be complaining so much if the Liberals were in the lead?Also, what would you like the press to “inform the nation” about? How about the criminal unconstitutional nature of taxation–that violates our right to our own lives? Shouldn’t they be informing the public about that? About how millions of people are being forced to labour at the whim of others? That sounds pretty serious to me, and regretfully, not even Harper seems to address this. (Albeit he does lean in this direction, as opposed to ALL the other 4 major parties who encourage this criminal activity.)I’ve been watching too much of CPAC lately, and it does a good job. They simply go out and ask regular (usually very ignorant) people about their thoughts; Along with speeches from the main candidates; All of which is pretty informative and spin-free.Cheers,dennisnreal estate supplies


    17 Sep 08 at 7:28 pm

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