Open News is an Australian publishing group with a difference.  Its primary role is to facilitate the creation and publishing of unique citizen journalism content (including citizen photojournalism and artwork) for the benefit of authors and communities it publishes in.  It is a social enterprise and regularly partners with not-for-profit and community groups as well as local businesses to assist them with their needs, at a fraction of the standard commercial cost.   Open News is dedicated to community, democracy, free speech and empowering people.

Citizen Journalism is commonly defined as “the collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public”.  Open News actively develops and maintains platforms where Citizen Journalism can be published and has been a pioneer in creating the first printed Australian newspapers that run solely on Citizen Journalism.  Open News is more than Citizen Journalism in the definition above, since it takes a step further and actively encourages citizens to wear the hat of a journalist, photojournalist and content creator as part of their role in the community and develops new publications.  Citizen Journalists collect and analyse information and create unique content while Open News encourages, enhances and disseminates it.

For almost five years Open News has been successfully publishing in this way in local communities.  Starting with St Kilda News (www.stkildanews.com) in Melbourne in 2011 the group has now grown to include an expected 20 publications by the end of 2015.    Some of these will be regular and ongoing and some will be produced once or twice.

In the past five years I have seen local communities benefit greatly from these types of open publications and demand and interest increase.  Various community members and organisations tell me they value a publishing platform where a diversity of local community news, opinions, events, arts and information is available in multiple formats including websites, print, social media and smart phone apps.

Despite a general down turn in print publishing, in the communities where Open News publishes we have found there remains a genuine demand for local news in a printed format. That said, our community surveys and market research has also shown over and over again that local residents don’t just want any print.  Real estate publications dressed up as local newspapers with a few local articles at the front and property advertising filling the bulk of the space are not considered desirable, but an actual local newspaper full of local content is.  If such a publication can also be produced by the community for the community (Citizen Journalism) our experience has been that it further increases its appeal.  Open News knows how to produce these types of publications with engaging content created by Citizen Journalists driven by social enterprise and has proven this model can work well on a local level in these changing times for media.

So as a result of the success so far and some recent consolidation, Open News is now looking to expand in three major ways. The first is to continue to encourage and embrace new opportunities that result in new local publications, especially for not-for-profit groups.  Second, as a social enterprise Open News continues to invest in communities and partnerships with community organisations for their mutual benefit.  Third, we are using our experience and a partnership with a technology organisation to build a new online platform that will connect citizens with publishers Australia wide, encouraging engagement with citizen journalism from both sides.  These new platforms are now in a testing phase and will be rolled out for wider use later this year.

If you have read this far you will now hopefully better understand what Open News is, what it does, where it is currently focused and have a sense of what Citizen Journalism powered by Social Enterprise means in practice. But why is all this important?  What genuine value does it offer?

The most exciting thing about Open News to me is the community enhancement and empowerment it creates in so many different and sometimes unexpected ways.  For example, it enhances freedom of speech, empowers those who would otherwise not have a voice, captures a genuine diversity of opinion and information, creates and improves community connections, information flow and promotes local businesses.  That’s a wide diversity of effects and each has many specific examples, too many to go into in this post.

Since Open News publications inherently value a diversity of information and opinions they represent multiple perspectives.  When these perspectives are published together or over a series of editions they create a better overall understanding of an issue for readers.  Open News has this special ability to clarify local issues since it publishes so many different perspectives that may include a range of dimensions, opinions and facts.  Issues that need attention are brought into the light, often directly by primary sources acting as Citizen Journalists and this often catalyses the addressing of problems.  In the process it is empowering authors, including those disadvantaged, marginalised and unemployed while also helping local business.  Open News publications have helped to create hundreds of jobs for local unemployed people by empowering individuals and connecting them with community and employers.

It could be said that Open News actively enhances democracy and communities though Citizen Journalism based publishing platforms with a dedication to democracy and free speech.  By encouraging, enhancing and disseminating Citizen Journalism, Open News empowers citizens, community organisations, local business and the general public.

Perhaps this model of local media will continue to grow in Australia?

If you would like to partner with or find out more about Open News please email  contact@opennews.com.au