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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Beat blogging - reporters build social networks

Beat Blogging is an experiment under way in the US that does pretty much what it says on the tin - a dozen or so reporters are using blogs and social networks to develop their beat. The Beat Bloggers' progress is being documented for the rest of us to follow.

It's a collaborative effort involving 13 news organisations plus, Jay Rosen's site dedicated to exploring the potential of open source reporting and crowdsourcing. (Other projects include Assignment Zero with Wired magazine, which recently wound down, and Off The Bus with Huffington Post.)

Reporters' blogs are often an extension of their published stories - points or paragraphs that had to be cut by the subs - or a place to publish stories or odds and ends that never made the paper.

This is different. This is a conscious effort to use the blog as a way of furthering stories, to bring social networks into reporting and facilitate public conversations with readers and experts around issues in the reporter's beat.

The participants are varied and they're going about the project in quite different ways. Some want total openness with the more people participating the merrier. Others want a private but robust community of contacts and experts. Some are using Google Groups as a starting point, others are looking at Blogger, Facebook and Ning.

Kent Fisher, for example, who is an education reporter with the Dallas Morning News, is setting up a blog as a means to broadcast to his contacts and his main goal is to get more stories and better reporting.

Brad Wolverton of the Higher Education Chronicle is using Google Groups as a starting point and wants to encourage lots of conversation about his beat. A rival reporter already wants to join, and he raises the interesting question of where a blogbeat reporter draws the line - does he protect his scoops or prioritise an open, public conversation online?

Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle is setting up a blog with nine sub-blogs, all on specific science subjects and each led by two scientists and a motivated lay person. He wanted to give the scientists a direct voice, and aims to link from his blog to the sub-blogs as they become relevant to the day's news agenda.

They're several weeks into this now and already there's plenty to read on Great place to drop in from time to time and get ideas.