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The case of the CBC wiki

This is an article about the paper I will give alongside UBC j-school professor Alfred Hermida this April in Austin, Texas. You can find the article HERE.

By Robert Rich

For all the talk of how online journalism is affecting individual journalists, newspapers and other media organizations, there is one entity that often is left out: the public broadcast system. Canada is trying to change that. An innovative initiative aimed at creating a wiki page for Canadian music is shedding new light on the role of the public broadcaster and the contexts in which they operate.

“The wiki is still a work in progress, but progress always gets delayed for technical reasons,” Alfred Hermida, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, said.

Hermida, along with UBC graduate student Amanda Ash, is the co-author of Wikifying the CBC: Reimagining the remit of public service media, the paper they will present at the 2010 symposium. The abstract for the paper is as follows:

This paper examines the adoption of a social collaborative knowledge system within the context of public service broadcasting in the 21st century. It takes a case study approach to examine the development and creation of a wiki on Canadian music by the Canada public broadcaster, the CBC.  This study explores the application of social media technologies within established media organizations, and specifically within the role and remit of the Canadas public service broadcaster.

“If we are shifting toward an interactive network digital environment, defined by the ability for people to create content and share, is it a role for public media to enable that ability?” Hermida said. “Public media is no longer just a broadcast medium used to deliver information, so should it now enable citizens to take an active part in enabling the knowledge?”

Like most symposium attendees, Hermida said he appreciates the ability of the event to bring together both sides of the journalistic coin, professional and academic.

“When I went to the academic side of things [after working for the BBC], I was able to see things from the other perspective at the symposium,” he said. “You had professionals with all sorts of questions about online journalism, and no answers. And, you had academics looking for those answers, but sometimes the questions being asked in the academic field were not the most relevant to the professional field. The symposium bridges that gap, and the benefit comes from the cross-pollination of those two areas. These two sides should be talking and collaborating anyway.”

A relatively new entrant into the field of journalism education, Hermida said he has already seen a dramatic change in the way it is taught to communication students.

“You cannot just teach journalists to operate in a specific delivery mechanism, like print or television,” he said. “We are teaching the idea of journalism first and foremost, and looking at how to do that journalism in different types of media. We are teaching students how to use the forms available and how to combine all of the different elements like text, video and photo.”

Hermida said he recognizes the importance of shifting away from the traditional model of teaching journalism, and stresses that the importance is actually not on the technology.

“Focusing on the technology was one of the early mistakes in online journalism education,” he said. “The technology is just a tool. The focus needs to be on the creative side. Technology, like say audio slideshows with SoundSlides require a very minimal amount of technical college. It literally takes about 30 seconds and just learning what buttons to push. The most important thing is still telling a story.”

As has been the case with past symposiums, he said that funding and business models will still be a large part of the discussions that take place this year, but that it is important to realize those discussions look further into the future.

“The issue of funding is still a pertinent issue, even more so now because of the economic crisis. But, we need to look beyond having trouble paying for journalism now. We need to ask what is the journalism we want, and what will it look like in 10 years. What is it about the internet that makes it different, and how can we capitalize on it and reach out to audiences and really engage the public? If we ask these questions and learn their answers, quality journalism will be funded.”

Learn more about Alfred Hermida at his personal website.

He can also be followed on Twitter.

Amanda Ash runs a blog regarding Canadian independent music.