Mozfest : Indicators for measuring the impact of news (part two)

So; as mentioned in the last post on here I have been thinking about understanding, simply communicating, and measuring impact in news.

I’m now going to delve a bit further into this; I’m paying particular attention to citizen-interest topics, social justice in all its forms; any stories penned by campaigning journalists, activists and citizen reporters as well as those representing ‘solutions’ journalism.

Mozfest measuring news

In my last blog I got to the basic doodle above after saying that a finely layered hierarchy (a pyramid) might not be useful to us to communicate impact as it quite a blunt tool and implies that change only happens in one way – ie. by climbing to the top of the hierarchy of ‘change’.  I do however think that we can still usefully group this information – so have grouped these basic categories in a simple way that can help us focus on the ‘type’ of change we want to see as a result of our online journalism.

Lets go into this a bit further.

I think we are looking at three groups within this simple impact measurement:

First group: 

1) People read it (Measured in pageviews, click throughs etc.)

2) People comment on it (Measured in quantity and quality of exchanges, sources of comments)

3) They share it (Measured in depth, frequency and diversity of share – eg. across many networks, to non-target readerships)

This first group is important because it represents broad reach and demonstrates a base of interest and potential network emerging from readership. It can of course help inform the content creator in a live way as to how their stories are being received. It could be seen as a proxy for relevance/interest of some kind or it would be being shared, commented on or even read.The challenge here is understanding the diversity of the shares across relevant indicators (are you breaking out of the echo-chambers of opinion?) and also the response of the reader to the content. (positive or negative). So far as I know there is no simple open source tool to help citizen journalists do this to ensure they are not just ‘talking to themselves’.

Second group:

1) They do something offline (Join a meeting in local area, attend a protest etc.)

2) They fund it – probably online- (though donations, crowdfunding, subscription)

The second group represents a step towards making specific change – so to me seems like it has a different quality of engagement; it has a cost in time or money to the ‘reader’. It is a form of journalism that has somehow become directed towards a common purpose, a specific action in a more ‘hands on’ way. The challenges here are measuring how likely the individual is to ‘convert’ into an active citizen on the topic in question and go on to construct a citizen-led response. Are there ways of monitoring this conversion process through integrating relevant platforms like meetup or crowdfunding sites into citizen journalism tools or dashboards. Is there a way of promoting action beyond ‘sharing’ in a more visible way? (eg. at the minute ppl have a set of sharing buttons on articles, what about addition of ‘do something’ buttons?)

Third group:

1) Decision maker interacts/responds to it (Measured by relevant actions/statements )

This is different from the other two as it represents a response, not an action under direct control of the reader. It represents impact on specific power dynamics. If the head of the company or government or whatever you’re writing about replies or changes their policy as a result, then you know you made a difference. In some ways it is perhaps more linked to ‘group 1’ – a sense of mass movement rather than a deep/constructive citizen led movement. To my mind both types of change are required – the one that people begin to build for themselves as represented in group 2, but the one that they lobby for against power as represented in group 3. 

The challenge here is who to target, how to be heard- and how to know if you are on the fringes of being heard by those in power who you want to affect. Are there ways of measuring readership by organisation that could help activists know when they are beginning to tap into relevant social networks of those in power?

It is clear that there is scope to develop some accessible tools for citizens and journalist activists to understand and target impact more effectively. Perhaps they are already being built somewhere? Let me know if you have found some and want to share!

Citizenship: Passive, and devoid of erotic promise?

In between drinking tea, browsing Which? for camcorders, and packing for my holidays  I’ve been thinking about how we perceive ourselves in relation to society… or more specifically – how uninspiring and lacking in appeal the notion of ‘citizenship’ is…. As Barbara Ehrenreich put it when talking of the public sector:

“Everything enticing and appealing is located in the (thoroughly private) consumer spectacle. In contrast, the public sector looms as a realm devoid of erotic promise.”

This made me go back to the “Citizens or Consumers” study (Lewis, Inthorn, Wahl-Jorgensen, 2005) which looked into portrayals of the public by US and UK news media over a set period of time in 2001-2002. Two insights that were supported by this report and study of over 8000 news media portrayals of members of the public were that:

1) “Instead of beginning with public opinion or the action of citizens and using this to address the politicians,the news media begin with the politician’s agenda and then invoke the actions, thoughts or feelings of citizens in response to this agenda.” (ie. the public is cast in a role of respondent, rather than activist – news is generally produced in a top-down, expert-led way.)

2) “The great majority of references to citizens or public opinion in the news- over 95% – are not based on any identifieable sources of evidence.” (ie. there are alot of ‘the public believe this, most people think that’ type of claims being made in the press which are largely unfounded… again, the public is pushed into the backseat, with no active role.)

If the public is consistently portrayed as being passive and responsive rather than active and agenda-setting, and if centrally controlled news media still has a profound influence on our self-perception as a society (whether accessed online or off); then what does this mean for individuals’ attitudes to the worth of individual behaviour change and the future of consumerism in an environmental context?

‘Consumer’ or ‘citizen’ – each are likely to have quite different personal responses to the challenge of climate change. So how far does the media impact on our self-perception in taking up either one of these roles, and therefore our willingness to act altruistically for the good of society?

Rather than think about this myself any further (as I do have quite alot of packing left to do) I’ll leave you with another couple of quotes on this relationship between how we perceive ourselves as being active or passive and the relatively short term thinking that underpins our value system. 

First quote is from Victor Lebow, a retail analyst working post WW2 (1955):

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and selling of good into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in commodoties… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate.”

This seems more relevant than ever to me, but I still want to buy that camcorder.

The second  quote is from the environmentalist Donella Meadows (2001):

“The Earth says: money measures nothing more than the relative power of some humans over other humans, and that power is puny compared with the powers of the climate, the oceans, the uncounted multitudes of one-celled organisms that created the atmosphere, that recycle the waste, that have lasted for three billion years. The fact that the economy, which has lasted for maybe 200 years, puts zero value on these things means only that the economy knows nothing about value – or about lasting.”

This seems to put things into context, though not sure about the ‘Earth says’ bit…

Anyway, the authors of “Citizens or Consumers” make some interesting suggestions as to how the portrayal of publics by news media could be altered in order to encourage a more lively and active citizenship. They say for example, that by using polling data in a more bottom-up and active way; “we might begin with what people want and then ask the politicians to respond to those demands.” I  think this has great potential for a more meaningful and useful interaction between media, publics and politicians and seems particularly relevant to the climate change debate in terms of releasing deadlock on tough policy decisions.

Also, trends towards a more networked journalism have been on the increase (possibly) since the publication of the ‘citizens or consumers?’ study … so when might we start to see more user-generated policies where citizens are enabled to play an active role rather than to respond by ‘buying’ or ‘not buying’ through the ballot box?

Howver, in the spirit of a long term planning approach I’m going to spend a bit more time mulling over what a sexy/cool/remotely appealing ‘citizenship’ might look like while I roam around  the lowlands of Scotland. Must go and finish that packing….!