Two things have struck me lately. One was meeting Jennifer Eccleston and Arwa Damon in Iraq (and their equipment guy) — they were embedded with the Marines to report on the war. I also am impressed with Anderson Cooper’s effort in Haiti, as well as his previous reporting in other parts of the world. These people have crazy field experience as well as access to get the ground truth.
The other thing is the Breaking News Online team on Twitter. It’s a motley crew of young men who live in different countries but collaborate to routinely find news before mainstream media gets it — sometimes up to hours before it hits the TV or press. They also put value in calling to verify news, a technique that “real” journalists have somewhat forgotten as of late.
So these two trends together… What if you could form a lightweight guerrilla journalist team? It would start with one field reporter and two people as a social media team. Very small. Basically, the field reporter finds an interesting story (e.g. Haiti) and goes to that area to report what he sees on the ground. The two people back home provide intelligence to the reporter from the social media world, as well as verify information and make the logistics and verification calls that the reporter needs.
The strength of this system is that it’s small and adaptable, and the team benefits not only from sentiment on the ground (with active content creation with photos, video, etc.) but also from incorporating what other news outlets are saying, what people are saying on Twitter, etc. The two people back home work 12-hour shifts to provide 24-hour coverage, adapting to what hours are needed to sustain the story.
The media is getting far better at using Twitter to complement its other news-gathering functions but it still gets hung up on editorial process, requirements to satisfy a public that wants only certain stories, and other things detracting from the usefulness of journalism.
Three people would be pretty cheap; most of the costs would be towards supporting the field reporter. The social media team would have to be pretty capable at multiple tasks (manipulating multimedia, scouring social media and networks, making calls and maintaining connections with other journalists), but the costs associated with that are low (besides salary).
I have seen some amazing stuff done by people who aren’t tied down to larger organizations in terms of reporting the news… And I do think the model would be sustainable, if not profitable. Most likely it’d start through donations or through a foundation, but I think the efficiencies of the team’s structure and its ability to deliver news would vault it to the top of the food chain in terms of accurate, timely reporting.
The social media team might also be able to handle two other field reporters at most at the same time, thus improving coverage.
The key is to not get laden with constraints that bigger organizations have.