From citizen journalism to civic ecology

I’ve been asking around and have yet to learn who to credit with the wonderful observation that the Internet amplifies a continuum of behavior from competition to cooperation to collaboration to co-creation. Henry Jenkins’s newest blog post at the Center for Future Civic Media suggests that it’s time to add a fifth C to the continuum: civic engagement. Henry writes:

[C]itizen journalism is a transitional concept at best. Like the phrase, horseless carriage, it defines what is emerging in terms of legacy practices. Today, if I asked you to list ten things about your car, it is unlikely most of you would identify the fact that it is not pulled by horses, yet there was a time when the salience of this description was strong enough that it framed our understanding of what an auto was. . . . I see what citizens are building as more expansive than journalism. We are collectively creating a communications system to support our civic engagement. For the purposes of this argument, I am going to be calling this infrastructure the civic ecology.

Thinking about a civic ecology helps us to recognize that while journalists do important work in gathering and vetting the information we need to make appropriate decisions as citizens, they are only part of a larger system through which key ideas get exchanged and discussed. We understand this if we think about the classic coffee houses which [the German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen] Habermas saw as part of the ideal public sphere. The proprietors, we are told, stocked them with a range of publications – broadsides, pamphlets, newspapers, journals, and magazines – which are intended to provide resources for debate and discussion among the people who are gathered there on any given evening. We might think about the ways that the newspapers in colonial America were supplemented by a wide array of different kinds of political speech – from petitions, resolutions, and proclamations to various kinds of correspondence (both personal and collective), from speeches, parades, sermons, and songs to street corner gossip.

The Banyan Project has long thought in terms creating what we call relational journalism and see a result as civic potency for the reader/users who engage with and through Banyan.  The term news ecology has become common; civic ecology trumps it.  Thanks for the clarity, Henry.

And if you can point me to the originator of the four-C continuum, please leave a comment.

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Hello world!

Welcome to the Banyan Blog, which takes its name from the Banyan Project, the nonprofit Web journalism startup that I lead.

I’ll chronicle the project’s progress here, but my writing’s deeper focus will be the passions that fuel this venture:  1) strengthening democracy by meshing quality journalism and new forms of civic engagement the Web makes possible, and 2) illuminating the value of integrity in a culture that’s awash in conflicts of interest; deceptive commercial, political and religious messages, and outright propaganda.

This blog makes its debut as I begin a new role as a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.  My fellowship project is to complete detailed business planning and raise money to launch pilot sites for Banyan’s distinctive approach to journalism and its ground-breaking business model.  I’m honored to have been selected as a fellow and look forward to association with the extraordinary people who make up the Berkman community.

What I bring to the community, and to this blog, is long experience as a writer and ranking editor for major newspapers and as an entrepreneurial publisher of print and Web magazines in both for-profit and nonprofit settings.  I love quality journalism in all its forms, and see huge potential for Web journalism that print and broadcast forms just can’t do.  This love, and my excitement at the prospect of helping new forms of journalism unfold through Banyan, will inform and fuel my writing here.

Further, for more than a decade I have studied, spoken and written about threats to democracy from the antidemocratic forces, especially giant corporations.  My perspective on democracy is that it’s the collective expression of the consciences of all citizens; I pursued my interest in power and the conscience in 2006 as a resident fellow at Harvard Divinity School.  This perspective will flavor my writing.

And with coauthor Doug Muder, an independent journalist and blogger who is a member of the Banyan Project board of advisors, I am at work on a book that digs into the past, present and future of journalism when measured against the needs of democracy.  That effort will also find its way into this blog.

I’m looking forward to your comments, and am confident that anything you post here will be helpful to the future strength of journalism and democracy.  Away we go!

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