Jon Funabiki & Steve Chen

Jon Funabiki of SFSU and Steve Chen, CTO and co-founder of YouTube

The just-ended Roundtable on Mobile Media and Civic Engagement, held by the Aspen Institute and San Francisco State University in San Francisco, was more than a two-day brain jam attended by mobile industry execs, academics and reps from civic and social justice organizations. Sessions were structured to come up with recommendations regarding mobile’s emerging role in the news media, politics and e-governance.

One snippet worth sharing here was an idea embraced by the editor of Wired News. I mentioned to my breakout session that in1996 I wrote a story detailing John Perry Barlow’s vision of being able to feed questions to reporters in the field at an interview or breaking news story. Interactivity — the promise of a two-way dialogue between journalist and audience — was what Barlow held out as a model form of journalism.

We took that notion in a slightly different direction. Our small group suggested having reporters at newspapers or magazines begin using the immediacy and interactivity of Twitter. A beat reporter could enlist a dozen or two dozen passionate, driven readers to serve as a kind of Twitter posse. Whenever she was about to tackle a big story or difficult interview, the reporter could begin a mobile dialogue with her posse members, who could pose questions, much like the “backchannel” IRC feed at conferences such as AlwaysOn or Supernova. This is a different approach than ReporTwitters, or Steve Outing’s recent suggestions of a Twitter city desk and Twitter as an aggregator of reader news bits.

What I like about the concept: It brings a much-needed air of transparency to the newsroom. It brings readers into the conversation, albeit in a limited way. It expands the reporter’s field of vision. The posse could be structured in a way to reduce noise and solicit the most thoughtful participants.

What I don’t like about it: The reporter is still the conduit and can shape and filter the story regardless of the posse members’ input. Readers’ involvement is only quasi-active.

We’ll see how it plays out. Wired News may start experimenting with this in limited fashion early next year. Perhaps some enterprising reporters out there are already doing so.