A discussion paper by Melanie Sill, Executive in Residence, USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, December 2011.


“The Case for Open Journalism Now” is a hopeful yet pragmatic argument for journalism’s future as a public good. It addresses a basic question of the digital age: with information flowing everywhere, how does journalism provide value? The answers lie in a new orienting idea for journalism that is transparent, responsive and enriched through vibrant two-way connections with a networked universe.

Happily, open journalism is more than a notion. It is a set of practices fast gaining traction and earning notice. Some advances focus on social media interaction, in-person convening and contributed content. Others are making news work more transparent and responsive. These experiments point the way to greater trust and accountability for news providers, who after all seek to hold others accountable.

Yet, to bring real change, we must reorder the fundamental processes of journalism toward the goal of serving communities—readers, viewers, listeners and customers. We must focus first on service and only then on platform or product.

Open practices can also increase journalism capacity. For instance, the collaborative and problem-solving mentality of open-source software has connected with the established knowledge-sharing of investigative reporting specialists, extending the reporting’s reach. Collaboration is being embraced by small enterprises serving communities in valuable new ways and by large organizations that once ignored each other’s work. News providers are taking tiny steps toward networking with non-journalism organizations that see information as part of their public mission.

These practices must move to the core of journalism thinking. We must seize this moment of opportunity and enrich the two-way connection that improves journalism for everyone. By focusing on the service that excellent journalism can provide, news providers and communities can build common cause for this work as a public good.

With help from the Annenberg Innovation Lab I’ve posted this paper as a discussion document accompanied by a compendium of 100 arguments, ideas and illustrations for open journalism. I hope you’ll post a response, cross-post to your own blog or web site and share links or input. Thank you.