Now, here is an interesting thing. I have written a few times about the OurSay organisation, a group of young people who are using social media to enable participatory democracy. Last weekend it was announced that they had partnered with The Sunday Age in an exercise designed to allow the public to direct that paper’s climate-change reportage.

Well, it has really taken off — thanks to Andrew Bolt. Thousands of people are now taking part in what is, so far as I am aware, the first new media citizen’s agenda exercise ever conducted by a mainstream media organisation in Australia.

Now, I have a few declarations to make here, because some of what is happening is partly because of connections and introductions I have been involved in making. My interests will become apparent as you read.

There's more to Crikey than you think.

Get more and save 50%.

Subscribe now

OurSay is a not-for-profit group of young people who, on the smell of an oily rag and a lot of enthusiasm and new media savvy, have built a site with Facebook and Twitter presence through which they crowdsource questions.

They then organise public forums at which politicians and other leaders agree to answer the questions that have been voted most popular by the OurSay audience.

They were active before the last Victorian election in the marginal seat of Brunswick, and held a successful forum there. They have ambitions — and are looking for funding — to hold a forum in every marginal seat in the lead-up to the next federal election. As I have written before, if they are successful it could transform political reporting of the contest.

I have been talking around the shop, including in my innovation in journalism series, about OurSay. The Sunday Age exercise is partly as a result of my recommending OurSay to some key people there.

What were the top 10 questions The Sunday Age asked last Sunday, encouraging readers to log on to the OurSay website. Top investigative reporter Michael Bachelard is overseeing the exercise, which is a small example of the kind of citizen’s agenda exercise advocated by US journalism thinker Jay Rosen.

And in a nice alignment of the planets, Rosen is going to be in Australia very soon now, as a keynote speaker at the New News conference, held by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation as Swinburne University (which I chair) in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival.

OurSay will be involved there, too, because we are using them to crowdsource questions that will be put to media leaders, including ABC managing director Mark Scott, Fairfax’s Greg Hywood and Crikey’s Sophie Black. The author of the most popular question will join these three on a panel on the afternoon of Saturday August 27. Details here.

But back to The Sunday Age exercise. It was bubbling along quite nicely. One of the chief worries, of course, had to be that being online, and being run by progressive young people, the exercise would fail to reach out beyond inner-city lefties. Sunday Age editor Gay Alcorn told me this morning she had been ringing around rural organisations, such as the CWA and farmers’ groups, to try and expand the reach.

But then, starting last weekend and again yesterday evening and today, Andrew Bolt lent a hand. Using his blog, which has a very high readership, he advocated a vote for this question:

“The very point of Australia’s carbon tax is to reduce global warming. How much will reducing 5% of Australia’s around 1.5% contribution of global CO2 emissions reduce global temperature by? If the amount is negligible (which it is), then given the present economic turbulence, what is the probability of Australia’s carbon tax inspiring major emitters like USA, China and India to make ACTUAL cuts to their C02 emissions (as opposed to mere carbon intensity) and economic growth?”

Bolt’s regular readers will know that the question reflects his own hobby horse in this debate.

Well, it worked. Yesterday afternoon there were about 900 votes for this question on the OurSay site. But last night, after Bolt’s advocacy, it took off like a runaway train.

OurSay’s Matthew Gordon told Crikey:

“He certainly has the pulling power, but OurSay is asking the community at large to hope on and explore all the questions posed, or even ask one themselves and to share those questions through their own networks. To date hundreds of questions have been asked, and the great thing, many people are commenting and already contributing to the answers. Also, it’s only day 4, so there is plenty of opportunity to take the top spot.”

At the time of writing, there are more than 2200 votes for the leading question and it is rising almost by the minute. The most popular question is followed by a raft of others with votes in the hundreds. There is a nice mix of sceptics and warmists represented.

So what does The Sunday Age think about this? Alcorn told Crikey this morning that it was “great”.

“We are only four or five days in, so it could go in any direction. We are not controlling this. That is the whole point. It is a completely open process. If good questions are asked, we will answer them.”

The forum closes on September 2, with The Sunday Age to publish the complete agenda that will guide its reportage the following Sunday.

It has to be likely that those with views contrary to Bolt’s will now get active and compose and vote up questions. The results will be fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile the whole exercise will hopefully increase audience involvement and connection with The Sunday Age, as well as drawing attention to the other OurSay forums, including an opportunity to pose questions to Telstra CEO David Thodey when he addresses the Melbourne Press Club next week, and of course the media leaders at the New News conference. (Another declaration. I introduced OurSay to the Melbourne Press Club folk).

So all this is going to be very interesting indeed.

There's more to Crikey than you think.

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

And now you get more from your membership than ever before.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
Get more and save 50%