On news, social media and responsibility

The Guardian this morning is published under a new editor. Katharine Viner takes over from Alan Rusbridger, and she takes charge of an institution which is very different from the one Rusbridger inherited from Peter Preston in 1995.

Rusbridger yesterday published a farewell to his readers: now no longer just readers, but also both members and contributors to the conversations which The Guardian facilitates. In the internet age, some papers instituted paywalls: Rusbridger cites Murdoch’s Times, which claims around 280,000 daily readers. The Guardian took the opposite stance, opening up its content to an international readership. It is now the second most widely read online Enlish-language news “paper” worldwide: around seven million people read it online. For myself, I still subscribe to the paper edition: but the smartphone app has taken over from the website as my preferred means of access when, as recently, I am overseas. Even the BBC is not so accessible from abroad.

But the point of this post is to encourage you to read Rusbridger’s farewell in its entirety (and it’s quite long). It contains thoughtful, stimulating analysis of issues such as the place of the social web in interactive journalism – bringing forth a new role, combining journalism with the skill of forum moderation. There’s the continuing role of ethical reporting in holding people to account (including, as seen recently, its own industry peers). Illustrating the trend to online, there’s a comment that the new presses, bought when the paper changed format, were “likely to be the last we ever bought”.

He recalls The Guardian‘s first website, which “didn’t fall into the trap of simply replicating online what we did in print”; in my own career I led my company’s strategy towards the Internet and the emergent World-Wide Web, and I recognise these issues. In due course the paper has developed its interactive model, opening up for response and comment from its online readership as an important part of continuous publishing.

Wikileaks, the phone hacking scandals, Edward Snowden and more; recognition, through the Pulitzer Prize; and successes such as the curtailment of News Corporation’s monopolistic ambtions and, more recently, that the US “phone dragnet hat had secretly violated the privacy of millions of Americans every day since October 2001” has been shut down. Interesting sideline: the link to this in Rusbridger’s article is null, and I couldn’t find a recent news article but, in the interactive Comment is Free section, there’s a discussion from the American Civil Liberties Union dating from April 2014.

I’ve scratched the surface. For those of us looking at the ethics as well as the potential of information creation and sharing – and we are all publishers now – Rusbridger’s farewell should be required reading.

Links:
• ‘Farewell, readers’: Alan Rusbridger on leaving the Guardian after two decades at the helm, The Guardian, 29 May 2015
• Obama is cancelling the NSA dragnet. So why did all three branches sign off? Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union, in Comment is Free, The Guardian, 25 March 2014
• other references in the articles

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