Guardian's 'social sign on' builds on paper's openness

By Laura Davison
British daily the Guardian recently changed the way its online user-accounts work. It’s a small change, really. Users can now elect to have their accounts linked with Facebook or Twitter. This "social sign on," as the paper calls it, has advantages. For one, it means remembering one fewer username-password combination that might contains two uppercase letters and a Mandarin Chinese character. That said, this change does reflect bigger innovations.

The Guardian has focused on creating what it calls "open journalism." In February, it released a “Three Little Pigs”-themed video advertisement to illustrate this. The ad follows the pigs as they are tried for murdering the Big Bad Wolf. It also tracks how conversation alters coverage of their trial. A reader breaks news via YouTube that the wolf has asthma and therefore couldn't have blown down the pigs' houses. This leads journalists to further investigate.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger told Nieman Lab earlier this week that answering two questions demonstrates how the Guardian practices open journalism: "One is how do you sort interesting people from uninteresting people, and how do you sort people of particular interests from other interests?” By using social media, the Guardian can find sources that add perspective, Rusbridger says. The paper is including bloggers and citizen journalists in its coverage instead of competing with them.

And here's where its online-account changes matter. When news consumers are logged in with Facebook or Twitter, journalists can more easily have conversations with them. Users may also be more inclined to exchange thoughts about stories among one another. They can share content on platforms besides Facebook and Twitter, too, expanding a story's reach.

You could also argue that non-anonymous user profiles are good for both users and Web editors monitoring discussions. Last year, Poynter wrote that linking social media accounts to user accounts made conversation more civil in comments sections of news sites, a place where politeness and intellectualism often die.

In the earlier-mentioned interview, Rusbridger said the Guardian’s No. 1 priority is eliminating barriers between “the people who want to contribute and the people who want to have access to [the Guardian’s content].” This means no paywalls.

Maybe that's a risky financial strategy. But innovation and the openness that comes with it might have more power to help the paper thrive.

Screen shot courtesy of the Guardian

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