The, Guardians, of, Open, Journalism, Media, Politics, Social Welfare, Viral

The Guardians of Open Journalism

A few days back, on 29 February 2012, the Guardian released one of the most striking advertisements I have seen in a long while. The first major television campaign for the Guardian in over twenty-five years, according to the paper, is certainly one of the most vibrant, humorous and intelligent ads I have seen any major news outlet produce, and it may be the best ad of 2012 thus far.

Screenshot of social media chatter in the advert

The first major television campaign for the Guardian in over twenty-five years… it may be the best ad of 2012 thus far.

Part of the Guardian’s ‘Open Journalism’ campaign, the two-minute short has been dubbed the “Three Little Pigs” advert. It riffs off of the conventional three little pigs children’s story – you know the one with the huffing and puffing wolf who is responsible for a slew of straw and wooden property destruction. The piece with its rapid cuts, inventive camera movements, dramatic music composition and sporadic use of gothic lighting, is masterfully evocative and seems more filmy than many films I’ve seen. And after the pointed criticism of 2011 Christmas adverts in this Charlie Brook’s article, you get the sense that if the Guardian was going to try their hand at a viral advert – this is the only way they were going to do it.

You can see the behind-the-scenes coverage here. It depicts how the Guardian might follow the story of the murder of the Big Bad Wolf by the Three Pigs, beginning with the Guardian’s online and print coverage and traces the ensuing global and multilingual response of the readership, across an array of social media platforms, as new evidence is published and opinion inevitably sways back and forth amongst the masses. There is an indefatigable championing of the free internet voice in the ad, which aligns nicely with Urban Times’ current bout of web adoration in our #WebLove Series (note the Hashtag), which you should definitely check out.

The mood is hyper-realistic with its flashes of what feels like oppressive government and vested interest met by expressions of growing anger spilling into physical displays of people power, hinting possibly to the Occupy movement of the last year. And so the film is, apparently, a metaphor for the Guardian’s commitment to “Open Journalism”. The response, as far as a cursory glance at the online comments goes, has been overwhelmingly positive.

Editor-in-Chief, Alan Rusbridger explained in the article, “A World of News at your Fingertips” that:

“Open is our operating system, a way of doing things that is based on a belief in the open exchange of information, ideas and opinions and its power to bring about change… The campaign is designed to bring that philosophy to life for new and existing readers.”

When discussing what open journalism looks like, he knits a patchwork of journalistic contribution that interweaves to form a living body much more than the sum of its parts. And because Rusbridger paints such an intriguing picture, I’ve included a sizeable chunk of his piece:

“A man dies at the heart of a protest: a reporter wants to discover the truth. A journalist is seeking to contact anyone who can explain how another victim died while being restrained on a plane. A newsroom has to digest 400,000 official documents released simultaneously.

The travel section is searching for a thousand people who know Berlin like the back of their hand. The environment team is seeking to expand the range, authority and depth of their coverage. The foreign desk wants to harness as many Arab voices as possible to help report and explain the spring revolutions.

The technology team work out the best way for a newspaper’s content to be shared, distributed and connected as easily as possible and build a piece of open software to make it happen. The developers at cutting edge outfits, small and giant, like that: it means they can easily incorporate that output into the platforms, products and devices they are building.

The newspaper is moving beyond a newspaper. Journalists are finding they can give the whole picture better. Over a year the readership grows – a little in print, vastly in digital. Advertisers like it, too. This is what we mean by open. The newspaper is the Guardian.

Urban Times: A User-Generated Home for Open Journalism

Open is our operating system, a way of doing things that is based on a belief in the open exchange of information, ideas and opinions – Alan Rusbridger, Guardian Editor-in-Chief

Rusbridger’s words are inspiring, and all the more comforting in light of my own role as of Editor-in-Chief of Urban Times. That’s not to say the sheer scale of the Guardian machine isn’t intimidating also. Something to strive towards, perhaps. Not to replicate, but to learn from. The Guardian’s model, after all, isn’t built around user-generated content, as say, the Huffington Post‘s is.

Of Rusbridger’s words, those which struck me most profoundly are those which came in little idealistic phrasings; “open operating system”, “open exchange of information”, “power to bring about change”. Such phraseology, typically, makes me wary because it is so darn easy-to-use disingenuously. You hear principles like these espoused every day by big brands, marketeers, profiteers, politicians and cynics looking to leverage their impact. But this isn’t an article about the dangers of green-washing, freedom-washing, open-source-washing and the like; rather it is an article about optimism. Optimism requires a certain leap of faith, and for just this moment, wash down the taste of your own bitter cynicism. Alan Rusbridger doesn’t know it and, the odds are, he doesn’t yet know of Urban Times, but he is speaking directly to us. And he has struck a nerve.

Tweet your reasons using the hashtag #weblove

We strive to uphold the same tenets that the Guardian claims to uphold. Have a look at the ongoing series Protect Your Online Rights to see the work we’ve attempted to defend the internet against the likes of ACTA, PIPA and SOPA. Open Source, open exchange and freedom to act for change are values which are present at the core of everything we’ve done so far and plan to do. They are an un-burdensome anchor for our approach to content creation. They are the tenets of our mission. I credit my friend Frank da Silva, with the technological metaphor of a necessary system upgrade to a 2.0 Operating system for our Earth. Cue a more powerful, productive and efficient model. This upgrade is what we strive for and the concept is encapsulated with no greater vigour than when it is attributed to our journalistic framework.

…all of us united under a single ethos: optimistic, forward-thinking. This is citizen journalism at its finest and we show no signs of stopping. – Alex Phillips, UT Editor-in-Chief

Unlike the Guardian, with its sizeable editorial team, and paid staff of writers, we have a small editorial force – unpaid and voluntary. True, but that may be underplaying our achievement, for our core team of four persons in London is padded by a growing team of volunteer editors toiling remotely when they can to curate the content of no less than 350 writers who contribute from literally every habitable continent on the planet. Our userbase has multiplied tenfold in a year to a quarter of a million. And all of us united under a single ethos: optimistic, forward-thinking. This is citizen journalism at its finest and we show no signs of stopping.

What we have achieved, my friends, is immense and truly global. This spirit of collaboration is a natural high that I can’t get enough of.