Kevin AndersonBBC Producer Kevin Anderson wrote BBC News strategy on how journalists can engage audiences through blog. He is also on the BBC blog steering committee. Here he discusses how the public will engage and change journalism.

In journalism circles, the London bombings of 7 July 2005 are now seen as a watershed moment for what has become called 'user-generated content'.

The people caught up in the event were best placed to tell us - and show us - what happened.

It was members of the public, not professional photographers, who took the iconic images that day.

I'm not fond of the term 'user-generated content'. Our audiences aren't passive users, and they don't 'generate' anything.

They are creating their own media and telling their own stories; and the stories they tell, the media they create, are more important to them than the packages we produce.

We partner with our audiences because we recognise that eyewitness accounts can be powerful, but we must remember that it is a partnership, not a one-way street. Simply asking our audiences to send us snaps is just 'crowdsourcing'.

In the age of social networks, we don't just push content at our audiences, and we shouldn't just take content from them.

The technology of participation is simple, but the culture of participation is complex, yet that's where the real revolution lies.

Technology allows us to build new, stronger relationships with the people formerly known as 'the audience', but whilst we are still applying the models of the broadcast age to this evolving age of social networks, we are missing a trick.

Our audiences are now deciding for themselves what stories are important, and in doing so are creating a user-generated context.

This idea drives sites like Digg, Reddit, Tailrank and the new Netscape homepage.

Increasingly, people put more stock in the information recommended by their own trusted social network than they do in the traditional news agenda.

Many members of our audiences are experts who have at their fingertips facts and information that, when aggregated, make our journalism better.

Jay Rosen of PressThink pointed out some examples of what he called 'users know more than we do' journalism.

He points to Joshua Micah Marshall of Talkings Point Memo, who says: "You've got muck. We've got rakes."

Some stories can be researched by breaking them into bits and delegating them to your readers: an army of people committed to trawling through public documents, quizzing their legislators or Googling census data.

For example, Josh asked his rakes to find out how members of Congress voted in a closed door meeting, or where legislators stood on the issue of net neutrality.

Media blogger Jeff Jarvis coined the term 'networked journalism' to describe collaboration between professional journalists, their audiences and 'citizen journalists'.

(It's important to note that most so-called citizen journalists don't consider themselves journalists, just members of social networks that share information of interest amongst themselves.)

It's not about professional journalists versus bloggers or citizen journalists. Collaboration is where the real opportunities lie.

I first collaborated with my audience in 2000 on the BBC News website, when we asked them what they wanted to know about the US presidential election.

Six days and 6,500 miles later, BBC correspondent Tom Carver and I had crossed the US to answer their questions.

Four years later, I wrote a blog of sorts for the next election.

I turned FoxNews' tagline on its head, instead of Fox's 'We report. You Decide.' I said: 'You decide. I report.' What do you want to know? You have questions. I can get the answers.

Now, I collaborate every day on an audience-driven programme on the BBC World Service, World Have Your Say. Maybe we can call this a user-generated agenda.

I often say that the only people really interested in news writ large are journalists. Most members of our audience have passions and interests outside of the current events agenda.

Our default is to consider issues of international or national significance, yet our audience is also interested in events at a local and hyper-local level.

Social networks online coalesce around place, interests or events. When we ask for participation, we must remember that the hyper-local news that wouldn't make it on to the 6.30pm bulletin may be more important to the community than the stories we choose to air.

Where traditional journalists have an advantage is in access journalism - stories that require access to a scarce resource such as White House briefings.

It's doubtful that a blogger would get access to such sources, but we must remember that audiences will have their own opinions, and they are the ones running the appeal court in the court of public opinion.

But businesses and politicians can only speak to so many people at a time, and journalists remain a conduit through which they can reach the public.

There is, however, plenty of room for journalists to work alongside their audiences. Slugger O'Toole is a blog about Northern Ireland's politics and culture which sometimes publishes exclusive information.

Written primarily by political analyst Mick Fealty, it features "direct from the ground" reporting, and provides insightful coverage of controversial issues.

Without doubt, journalists covering Northern Ireland read Slugger O'Toole, and the media picks up stories broken there. Equally, the media provide Slugger with a rich vein to mine - the relationship is symbiotic, although rarely discussed.

This cultural shift that we are seeing, this change in our relationship with our audiences is scary for some.

Journalists can set up blogs in minutes, but blogging is more than taking what you've already written, chopping it up and putting it in reverse chronological order.

Publishing an article, or writing a blog post is just the start. Now the audience answers back, and many journalists are unsure how to handle it.

Once, receiving a few Letters To The Editor was the sign of a successful piece. Now you can expect hundreds of emails sent direct, and when you open up to a public conversation, you also open yourself up to criticism. And criticism is scary.

Yet at the heart of participatory media is an honesty, a transparency, which is frequently lacking in traditional media. Responding to criticism is an integral part of having a conversation with your audience. It's hard, but it's rewarding.

The upside of this new networked journalism is a new relationship between journalists and their audiences based on respect, which itself results in a more committed, more loyal readership.

And with newspaper readerships falling, and broadcast audiences fragmenting, loyalty is more important than ever.

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