In line with the Guardian’s open journalism philosophy, features writer Jon Henley decided to see what open principles could do for foreign reporting, and set out to harness the power of social media in Greece’s economic crisis in March this year. He was speaking at the 19th World Editors Forum in Kiev last week.
He went to Greece to look for the “stories behind the headlines,” using Twitter as his first port of call. It was a “very Twitter-driven initiative,” he said. Of course, not everybody is on Twitter, but it is always possible get in does with those who aren’t via those who are if necessary.
He sent a first Tweet before flying out of London: ‘‘In Athens, Thessaloniki next week for stories of hardship and self-help in #Greece. Can you help? Ideas/contribs welcome #EuroDebtTales”.
By the time he landed in Athens, he had a couple of hundred tweets awaiting him and a ballooning number of Twitter followers. He was retweeted by the Guardian, and in the days before leaving he had identified big tweeters in Greece and the issues that concerned them, and asked them to retweet him. This preparation was extremely important, he said, so that by the time he got of the plane “the ball was already rolling” and people were sending him ideas and even phone numbers.
While there, he tweeted frequently and wrote three 700-800 word blog posts a day: one with stories that people sent him, two based on interviews that day. Using material that came directly from the people from was an important factor, he said, in achieving openness. When concerned citizens wrote to him complaining that his revelations that malaria was back in the country would damage tourism, he invited them to contribute to the blog.
The Guardian also developed an interactive map to display Henley’s journey. When interviewing each person he would take a photo, extract an interesting quote and then tweet it with a geo-tag.
As well as the immediate coverage on Twitter and almost immediate on the blog, the stories became a two-page spread in the Saturday Guardian, which highlighted some of the most interesting findings. And when this article was put online on the Guardian’s homepage as a classic piece of foreign reporting, it became the most read piece over 72 hours even though most of the material was already out. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/series/greece-on-the-breadline)
The series was welcomed by Greeks as well as by readers abroad. “People saw it as a chance to change the image of their country,” Henley said, “people were thanking me for telling their stories and giving them a voice.” The comments on the blog were more positive than for most stories, he added.
- Make sure you have a strong story
- Reply to EVERYTHING even if just to say thanks
- Think open
- Maintain a consistent rhythm of publishing