A collaborative thesis by @margokingston1: Stories of citizen journalism with Webdiary and @NoFibs #MediaMargo

Margo Kingston speaking at Project SafeCom's Don'e Mention the Refugees forum, 2005.

Margo Kingston speaking at Project SafeCom’s Don’t Mention the Refugees forum, 2005.

IT’S official, folks. I have a scholarship to do a Doctorate in Creative Practice at Macquarie University on the topic: ‘Experiments in collaboration between professional and citizen journalists: from practice to theory’.

The thesis comprises a book for publication and an exegesis. I’m told the first year of the PhD adventure entails reading and thinking through exactly what will be tackled – whittling down the topic to something where one researches in depth and becomes a bit of an expert.

The book will be a professional memoir which seeks to explain my journey from mainstream political journalist to Sydney Morning Herald political blogger and editor with Webdiary, website owner when I went independent in 2005, and my new project after a seven-year break, No Fibs.

I’ve decided to start a No Fibs series on other people’s stories and how they interact with mine, with a view to learning more and referencing these posts in my thesis.

I’ve always been a practitioner, not a theorist, so I need to examine what shaped my beliefs and practice of journalism and led me to see collaboration as a way of saving the job of political journalist and ensuring its place as a key pillar of a vibrant democracy.

My story is a one of many stories of online political awakening. Between 2000 and 2005 I was so busy editing and writing for Webdiary I barely knew what was happening ‘out there’ in the new media. What I do know is that former Webdiarists, now avid Twitter users, lifted me up and gave me a place in Twitter’s world. I see No Fibs as the successor to Webdiary.

So I’ve decided to start a No Fibs series on other people’s stories and how they interact with mine, with a view to learning more and referencing these posts in my thesis.

The series kicks off with a reflection by Michael Burge. He is a professional sub-editor who volunteered to report the seat of Bowman for the federal election as part of the 2013 No Fibs citizen journalism seat report project. Mike then became No Fibs’ chief sub-editor and our arts columnist, and is now a joint holder of the No Fibs dream, along with my co-publisher and geek Tony Yegles and my chief reporter Wayne Jansson.

Mike’s experience working on No Fibs qualified him for a new job – deputy editor on a Fairfax online portal.

If you would like to tell your story for this series, contact me by DM and we’ll talk.


No Fibs on NEWsMeBack

The NEWsMeBack website collates citizen journalism projects from around the world. No Fibs was added this year. Here’s their questions and my answers.

What motivated you to create No Fibs?

After seven years’ retirement from journalism, I felt compelled to comment on a political story in late November 2012, and did it through Twitter and an opinion piece published by an independent media website. Tony Yegles, who had participated in my last collaborative journalism project, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Webdiary, built a website to archive the topic. Someone gave me an iPad, and others expressed the wish that I have another go at journalism. I left journalism before Twitter, and was excited by its possibilities for collaborative journalism. I conceived No Fibs as a Twitter-based website, using Twitter handles and hashtags in its headlines. The first site was called Australians for Honest Politics.

My reports on returning to journalism:

November 30, 2012
A question of character?

December 11, 2012
Margo Kingston: My welcome to Twitter

February 23, 2013
Building bridges, an interview

March 1, 2013
Manifesto for @NoFibs

How does it work?

Before the September 2013 election, I edited the site, using Twitter to ask for contributions, and investigated underdone stories using citizen journalists as collaborators. Tony managed the site and published posts. We then received a grant from Macquarie University which allowed us to work full-time for six months, focusing on citizen journalist seat reports for the federal election. We could not handle the volume of work and were saved by an old friend, Julie Lambert, who had just been made redundant as AAP’s chief sub-editor. She volunteered to sub-edit the citizen journalists, improving quality and directly helping citizen journalists improve their work.

After the election I brooded over whether to continue in journalism or finish my nursing degree, which I’d already deferred in 2013. My profound attachment to Webdiary saw me nearly exhaust my financial resources when I took her independent in mid-2005, and resulted in my forced retirement due to a physical and emotional breakdown.

So I decided that I would not attach to No Fibs. I felt that while it had energy it would survive and develop, and when it lost its energy it would fold. I felt that its best chance for innovation and delight was for it to be wholly voluntary – everyone, including me, would work for No Fibs because they wanted to.

Three other key players shape the site. Tony is the geek. Michael Burge, a professional sub-editor, is chief sub, and Wayne Jansson is chief reporter. Several columnists upload their own work and also keep an eye on the site, as do several proofers. It is understood that the buck stops with me; my policy is to allow people I trust to make calls on content, in the knowledge they will check with me if they sense an issue of ethics, legals or some other matter I need to be consulted on.

I have crowd-funding for a professional journalist, Peter Clarke, to investigate an ABC matter, and several FOI requests.

What are No Fibs’ current projects?

No Fibs’ big project last year was our citizen journalist seat reports for the federal election. After the election, I funded a pilot project by a professional journalist, Stephanie Dale, who edited citizen journalist reports on community protests against Coal Seam Gas mining. No Fibs participated in a social media campaign to save Australia’s last fruit processing company SPC, #SPCsunday, and delivered Australia’s most comprehensive reporting of a social media-based protest against the current government called #MarchinMarch. This year I have focused on live-tweeting civil disobedience at Australia’s first blockade of a coal mine, the #leardblockade.

No Fibs has become a site documenting political activism, written by professionals collaborating with citizens, and by citizens with assistance from professionals in accordance with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) code of ethics. It also gives me a platform to promote my ambition for vigorous public debate on media regulation, the question of what a journalist is, and the ethics of our practice.


March 19, 2013
Journalist @margaretsimons stands up to Oz intimidations, speaks out on media reform

March 27, 2013
Can the cross bench deliver citizens accountability from newspapers?

April 9, 2013
Paddy Manning pays the whistleblowers’ price

May 23, 2013
The Press Gallery contemplates reform: join the conversation

June 7, 2013
@NoFibs new directions

June 15, 2013
Immersion journalism for democracy

June 21, 2013
ABC loses plot on ethics and news : citizen journos shine

August 4, 2013
Ready to go on @NoFibs citizen journo seat reports

October 7, 2013
New No Fibs citizen journalism project: The CSG social movement

December 2, 2013:
Reporting Indi: A reflection by Margo Kingston

February 27, 2014
Press Council upholds @margokingston1 complaint against @dailytelegraph on #Ashby

April 13, 2004
Getting #leardblockade arrested, WTF is journalism and who’s the extremist: @margokingston1 interview with @dailytelegraph

April 29, 2014
Reporting grassroots green shoots when hope in establishment politics dies

May 20, 2014
Off the rails with Margo Kingston Interview

August 5, 2014
Time for @mediaalliance to take charge of secret tapes ethics debate

As a former journalist, you can draw a real parallel between traditional and citizen journalism. How do you see these two types of journalism?

To me journalism is a state of mind and ethical practice is its underpinning. I don’t see a difference between citizen and professional journalists except in experience and skills. I see myself as a current journalist!

According to you, can citizen journalists offer quality content and is their reporting credible enough?

Yes and, sometimes, yes!

Are citizens interested in citizen journalism training and what do you expect from them?

Yes. Stephanie Dale created training materials as part of her brief to edit our CSG reports. During the election I created a Facebook group for our citizen journos so they could ask questions and discuss issues as they arose. It would be great to find a volunteer to look after the training materials resources of the site, and be available to help novice citizen journalists.

What do you think of the media in Australia?

Mainstream media is in existential crisis. New media is booming. All is fluid, dynamic, ever-changing. I’m interested in how new and old media can collaborate to the benefit of all. I can’t see a bright future for Australia’s democracy without a strong, ethical mainstream media presence.

What are No Fibs’ plans for the future?

To see where the energy takes it. I’ve begun a PhD in collaborative political journalism, and hope Tweeps will collaborate with me.

How do you see the future of citizen journalism?

Very, very bright.

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  1. Wishing you well with the Ph.D. Please look after yourself – chronic fatigue happens to a distressging number of people doing Ph.D’s: lots of demands, often little support, an ill defined situation, and you could always do more/go deeper/provide more references and a more nuanced argument.

    Very much looking forward to reading the result.

  2. Mz Construe says

    In recent times I’ve started to seriously worry about what will happen if the media is so completely diminished in its role as a ‘hold to account’ force of scrutiny that democracy, compromised as it is already, becomes much less viable. Sometimes I wonder – do people realize the connection between the media and democracy? I went past a newsagent the other day and saw a long line of people queuing up for scratchies and lotto, and nobody had a newspaper in their hand. This is a really interesting project, and I think No Fibs is a great idea. Our household has recently taken subscriptions for two non-Murdoch news sources, but its clear that the job of scrutiny is a big one for a shrinking pool of paid journalists, and citizen journalism may become an essential part of the picture. Working out ways to create a cooperative culture between different kinds of journalists who share the common goal of genuine scrutiny is a start. I’d also like to see a campaign that reaches the general public to get people thinking about why supporting media diversity is in their interests.

  3. Hey Margo
    Wishing you all the best.
    Thank you for all your work in supplying and presenting a credible source of information and those that have helped you. In a space where opinion is rarely mixed with fact you have been an exception. Often reporting stories that completely bypassed main stream media. As I believe this was the aim you have excelled.
    And just in case you missed it, once more thank you and truly wishing you the best with the Phd.