I haven't seen this elsewhere, but the BBC's Action Network is going to close, according to the International Centre of Excellence for Local Democracy (ICELE). This may be yet another example of how centralised initiatives to support campaigning and democracy will have to adapt to the new publishing and campaign power of individuals on the Net, and in social networks. One click politics is spreading.
In BBC backs out of changing the world ICELE report:
A spokesperson for the BBC at the World eDemocracy Forum announced that the acclaimed campaigning site, 'Action Network' is to close its doors.
The power of the network over council-led initiatives was the faith that citizens had in the independence of the broadcaster.
The closure is expected within the next three months in favour of a more news driven service which has a greater emphasis on aggregation of bottom-up content, including issue related blogs.
BBC Action Network had a boost when it changed its name from 'iCan' but has been struggling with active content despite around 1 million hits per month. Momentum was also lost with the departure of long-term project leader Martin Vogel.
The BBC site had been honoured as the top politics and Internet "world changer" of 2005, and in previous years.
Searching revealed a mention of the Action Network ("It seemed to disappear in the haze of BBC Online") on the blog of Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, who reported an afternoon talking to BBC journalists a few weeks back. Reflecting on the revolution in media currently taking place, he wrote:
Central to this - and where the BBC plays a critical role - is the reconstitution of what's traditionally been known as the 'Fourth Estate'. What I mean by this is the massive explosion in the number of people doing what they consider journalism, but who don't call themselves journalists. Maybe they take the occasional photo and send it to the BBC, or write a blog about an event they go to, or do some digging about some local scandal.
The exciting bit, and the bit I hope the BBC will play a big part in, is harnessing this amazing explosion by giving people the tools and advice to help them become informal constituents of this new Fourth Estate. This occurred to me when on the way back I was reading excerpts from Demos' study about the 'Pro-Am Revolution':
"...in the last two decades" Demos writes, "a new breed of amateur has emerged: the Pro-Am, amateurs who work to professional standards. These are not the gentlemanly amateurs of old - George Orwell's blimpocracy, the men in blazers who sustained amateur cricket and athletics clubs. The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive, and low cost"
Imagine if the BBC built the tools to enable these 'Pro-Ams' to do some of the jobs journalists would like to do but just don't have time: to search through health statistics, to look at local councillors records, to look at public sector budgets. Many might use them just for their own benefit, but in doing so they could turn up things no single journalist would have time to look for. MySociety have built tools like this to enable people to scrutinize MPs (TheyWorkForYou), and more recently on to report local problems - FixMyStreet (broken drains, cracked pavements).
Isn't this something the BBC could do too? And, if it did, wouldn't it harness the power of an army of local and specialist journalists?
This is a fascinating observation at a time that the BBC Trust is carrying out a review of the online service bbc.co.uk. I'm doing some work on the consultation process, and should be able to write more about that shortly. I hope Martin submits his ideas.
Meanwhile Martin's organisation, the Media Standards Trust, has just launched an extremely interesting site - http://www.journa-list.com -that enables you to look at news articles by journalist rather than by news organisation.
You can see what articles a journalist has written, what subjects he/she writes most about, and who else has written about the same subject. More usefully still, you can build your own newsroom of favourite journalists and have their articles gathered together and automatically emailed to you every morning.
The site works by looking up the RSS feeds of the various national newspapers and BBC news online, then indexing the articles by journalist (if you want any more technical details you'll need to talk to Ben - the internet whizz whose been building the site from his cottage in the wilds of north Wales).
It's still in beta, but already fascinating ... and not just to journalists looking for their rankings. As part of my work with the Trust, I've been looking at blogs, and also for journalists writing about the BBC. Here they all are. Hat-tip to William Davies, who is a trustee of the Media Standards Trust.