Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Guardian asks what role crowdsourcing will play in the future of journalism

Mercedes Bunz of The Guardian's Digital Media Blog recently asked whether it was time for journalists to fully embrace crowd-sourced journalism with an award. This hypothetical question was in fact just recently made a reality, when an anonymous group of Iranians received a George Polk Award in Journalism for their footage of a female protesters violent death. Despite the difficulties of determining who in the crowd should get the award, should it actually become its own award category, the blog post sheds light upon the important role the crowd now plays in journalism.
Social networking services consistently put average day citizens on the front lines of news as it is unfolding. Reporting on events like the plane that safely crash-landed on the Hudson River or the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake can only accurately be told with the help of crowd sourcing technology. Crowd sourcing websites like Ushahidi actually worked to save lives in the Haitian earthquake, pooling user contributions to create a crisis map of the most devastated areas.

The crowds ability to capture and publish what they see, hear, and feel as it happens ultimately creates a more accurate mosaic of an event felt from a variety of different perspectives.

Although crowd sourcing depends upon users essentially being in the wrong place at the right time, they ultimately contribute material that The Digital Media Blog described as "faster, more detailed and richer than the material provided by news agencies."

Crowd sourcing, in a less obvious application, can also be used for investigative reporting. One reporter followed the tip-offs posted by citizens only to uncover a sensational story regarding the police's involvement in a death.

Respected news outlets such as The Guardian and CNN have gone so far as to reach out to the crowd. The Guardian has an entire page devoted to uncovering MP's expenses, which employs the help of average reader in sifting through nearly 240,000 pages of expense documents. So far 26, 155 users have participated in the effort. Employing crowd sourcing in a similar fashion, The Huffington Post called upon readers to scourge the 1,400 page US Senate Stimulus Bill. The call was meet by 367 participants who willingly trudged through the bill in a search of any abnormalities that might exist.

For news agencies to monitor all of the incoming information from the masses would be an impossible task. News outlets and reports might be willing to devote their time to finding coverage of a specific event, but looking for story leads is impossible.

In order to save time while also capitalizing on the crowds desire to participate in the news, some outlets have created digital versions to accompany and perhaps replace the more traditional "tip" hotlines. Sites like the CNN iReport are notable for taking such an approach and receive nearly 10,000 monthly iReports. Although this represents a hefty amount of data to sift through, news outlets can use statistics to tag reoccurring leads that might result in a bigger story.

For reporters to benefit from crowd sourcing, The Digital Media Blog recommends that journalists cultivate a crowd following, stating " order to be able to ask for information using a blog or Twitter account, it is required that the journalist has built up a relationship within a community." In the competitive world of journalism, crowd sourcing can be used as a huge asset to reporters in gathering information. While issues of accuracy are ever present, Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, believes the combined "mosaic [of images or information] will be true, even if a few pixels aren't."
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