Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian, published an editorial on Poynter Online explaining his organization’s efforts to transform from just publishing news to building an information ecosystem:
We think the future is about endless experimentation, that this is a journey which has barely begun. To us it seems fairly evident there are two features of this new information ecosystem which it would be foolish to ignore, whichever camp you’re in: openness and collaboration.
Openness is shorthand for the way in which the vast majority of information is, and will continue to be, part of a larger network, only a tiny proportion of which is created by journalists. Information may not want to be free, but it does want to be linked. It’s difficult to think of any information in the modern world which doesn’t acquire more meaning, power, richness, context, substance and impact by being intelligently linked to other information.
Collaboration refers to the way we can take this openness one stage further. By collaborating with this vast network of linked information — and those who are generating and sharing it — we can be infinitely more powerful than if we believe we have to generate it all ourselves.
The rather clumsy name we’ve given this openness/collaboration theme at the Guardian is mutualisation. It’s an attempt to capture the energy and possibilities we can imagine from working with readers and others to be a different kind of news organization.
Rusbridger gives several examples of how this approach has yielded better coverage of events and stories:
Traditional reporting completely failed to uncover the true story behind the death of an innocent man at the G20 conference in London in 2009. It took one reporter, Twitter, and the collaboration of thousands of readers to find the digital record of the moment a policeman struck Tomlinson. Conventional reporting would not have revealed the truth as quickly if at all.
In addition to a traditional op-ed section — with a handful of staff writers — we built a site where hundreds of experts, most of them non-journalists and most of them writing for no payment, have their say and thousands of others join in the argument. The result is a comment website which is much richer and more diverse than we could possibly achieve in print alone or without involving numerous other people.
Even with five or six full-time writers on the subject, we realized we would not be able to do it justice alone. So we created a Guardian Environment Network whereby we host the best contributions from some of the excellent websites and blogs that already cover the subject. We gain: The content on the site is deeper, better and generally more comprehensive than we could ever achieve ourselves. Our partners gain by being exposed to much greater traffic (we currently have 32-35 million unique visitors a month) and from a share of revenues from advertising.