Welcome to the beginnings of OpenFile.ca, a new voice for local news.
We are warming up, getting ready to unveil our website in just two weeks. We promise to provide smart, original, insightful stories about the places and topics that matter most to the people of Toronto.
For me, OpenFile represents a fresh chapter in my journalism career, which began more than 20 years ago in this city. As a video journalist at CBC Television, I was the night reporter, handling breaking local news – going live here, whipping over there for an interview.
After working in all of Canada’s national network newsrooms, I became the Middle Eastern correspondent for ABC News, then an international correspondent for CNN. I reported from Africa, Asia, North America and all over the Middle East. I covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tsunamis and civil conflicts. These were big stories, but they taught me that all news starts as local news.
Over the past few years I’ve watched the news business change dramatically. Big media companies have struggled to figure out how to adapt to the way people are getting their news in the digital age. My biggest fear was that real journalism, stories that affect you and your community, would get lost as traditional news outlets scrambled to come up with a quick fix that would lure back their dwindling audiences.
We are not trying to replace daily newspapers or newscasts. We do not have the answer to all the questions that are keeping journalists like us awake at night. But we believe that journalism cannot evolve without input from you, the reader, so we’re trying something different. At OpenFile, readers can collaborate with our reporters and editors, creating a place for great storytelling to flourish.
When I returned to Canada last year, I got together a group of journalists and clever web thinkers and developers whom I admired. We spent months huddled over our kitchen tables, scribbling on Post-it notes, arguing and eating a lot of takeout before agreeing on this approach.
We asked some smart venture capital people to help develop a business plan. We did the « finance dance » for about five months and raised some money. We moved into an old factory in Toronto’s west end, and here we are.
We’ll start by doing one thing – local news – and doing it well. The internet is full of aggregators powered by search engines that spit out the same story over and over. We’re not like that. We’ll assign real reporters to cover the developments that affect your communities and neighbourhoods.
Toronto is our start.
This will be your site! Think of it as a work in progress, because we want to know how you feel about what we’re doing.
While Bernard Derome sat at the anchor desk of Radio-Canada’s Le Téléjournal for the last time last night, Montreal’s start up community gathered at Radio Lounge for a holiday bash called Celebrate Camp. Not able to go, and knowing that the room would be full of geeks with iPhones handy, I kept one eye on my Twitter stream and one eye on the Téléjournal in order to follow what was going within my own personal community and around the world. As PR consultants start to become more familiar with micro-blogging, one thing they’ll realize is that Twitter geeks love to ‘live Tweet’ events. They arm themselves with laptops and iPhones and send short messages to their Twitter account. Speakers beware, this is often done at conferences. No sooner have words passed through your lips than they are reported by a Twit to all his or her followers on Twitter. *
Derome’s last night at the desk went off without a hitch and, while technical glitches limited the amount of Tweeting done at Celebrate Camp that evening, I still had enough material to keep myself entertained. Result? The two-part Xtranormal animation below was produced, by moi, for your amusement.
Without further ado, I present to you, in two parts, A Twitter’s eye view of Celebrate Camp 2008:
After 33 years at the helm of the Téléjournal, Bernard Derome has a unique perspective on many things including politics, society and technology. In both his closing remarks and in a one-hour interview with Michel Désautels which followed the news bulletin, he spoke about journalism and the way news gathering and telling has evolved over the years. How, when he started out, there was no such thing as production meetings and how, now, journalists live on their Blackberries. Most tellingly, he spoke about his wish that technology not get in the way of thoughtful journalism. For Derome, the biggest change over the last years has been the acceleration of the rhythm in which journalists are asked to work and report the news. He refers to this as ‘Blackberry journalism’ and says that he hopes that journalists .. and, consequently, society in general .. remember the importance of taking the time to step back in order to put things in perspective.
As Quebecor’s Sun Media cuts staff and monuments like the Chicago Tribune see their parent company file for bankruptcy protection, it’s important to keep Derome’s words in mind. In a world where bloggers and Twits report on events hours before the daily newspaper hits the sidewalk, the industry has no choice but to evolve. From Mumbai to Obama’s election and the prorogation of the Canadian parliament, we’ve seen how Twitter has been used in the sharing of information. Regardless, the kind of thoughtful journalism Derome speaks of should never go out of style, in my mind. He’s right in that it offers the kind of analysis and perspective that remains critical as our society makes decisions and shapes its future.
Twitter is instantaneous, short, and perfect for a fast-food consumer world that wants everything delivered as quickly as possible.
I suspect that as the days go on, my impression of last night’s Celebrate Camp event will change as others help fill in the blanks, on Twitter, in conversation, on blogs and, who knows, if anything newsworthy really happened, in the pages of the Gazette or La Presse.
* Twitter lexicon:
Twitter = the microblogging platform itself.
Twit = someone who uses Twitter.
Tweet = a Twitter message of 140 characters or less which can include hyperlinks.
Twittering = sending a Tweet
Follower = Other Twits who find your interesting enough to add your Tweets to the stream of other Tweets that appear on their main screen
Retweet = Repeating another Twit’s message for the benefit of your followers, who, because they don’t necessarily follow that Twit, may not have seen it. Often using the abbreviation RT.
Tweeple = People you know on Twitter. Your community.
(Disclosure: Xtranormal is a client. Regardless, I think their animation software is fun and yesterday’s project was not work)