Volume 8 Number 9
September 3 - October 8 2012
A new project – called Citizens’ Agenda – involving pre-election town hall meetings and community forums in key seats has been announced by the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advanced Journalism, in partnership with Fairfax Media and the social media group OurSay.
Candidates will be asked questions selected – or ‘crowdsourced’ – by users of OurSay’s website and social media channels.
Researchers believe this will be the world’s first social media “intervention”, exploring the potential for media organisations to pursue a “citizens’ agenda” to influence both political reporting and the conduct of an election campaign.
The project was launched recently by the Managing Editor of Fairfax Media (National), Mark Baker, and the Director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism, Dr Margaret Simons.
Dr Simons said the project should answer questions that have become increasingly urgent for both journalists and politicians.
“There is a great deal of discussion about the potential positive impact of social media on democracy and journalism,” she says.
“But few pieces of research that actually measure whether it can live up to its promise.
“The Citizens’ Agenda project will ask people in key electorates, not the arid question ‘Who will you vote for?’ but rather ‘What do you want the election to be about?’
“We hope to provide an alternative agenda for both politicians and journalists, while increasing citizens’ interest and involvement in the larger political contest.”
Mr Baker said Fairfax Media was participating in the project because of its potential to explain how social media can invigorate political reporting and journalists’ engagement.
“The more engaged we are the better the outcomes for society, community and country,” he says.
The idea of a “citizens’ agenda” first arose in the United States during the 1990s civic journalism movement.
New York University Professor Jay Rosen conceived a new role for the media — not just to identify problems, but to assist in the search for solutions.
Rosen visited Australia during the 2010 federal election campaign (which installed the Gillard minority government) and decided the idea of a citizens’ agenda was still relevant, but needed a social media twist.