Bloggers as Crowdsourcers

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Friday December 8, 2006.

A whole lot of you might be wondering why everyone is talking about crowdsourcing right now. And also whether it’s even a word. Well, here’s why. One of the biggest media companies in the U.S. is going to use crowdsourcing as a method for journalism. It’s a huge thing. And now people around here are talking about it.

I realize that the vast majority of the people who become involved in helping media organizations to investigate stories and produce journalism will be your average reader. But I, as a blogger, happen to be very interested in how crowdsourcing will affect blogs. In the article referenced above, Myrna asks, “Which is better? A revitalized traditional news product like the RGJ using the free content generated by citizen journalists or a new crop of independent publications and websites generated by those same people?” It’s a great question, and I think the only answer to it that makes sense is: both.

As I see it, Gannett’s larger goal is to improve the delivery of news so that Gannett can make more money. Those people that are running their own “independent publications and websites” are also doing so in the hopes of creating a better news publication that makes them money. Everyone involved here wants to make money, for sure. But in a democracy, the bigger issue for people analyzing it has to be the improvement of the flow of information.

I was thinking about this several weeks back and even sat down to write what I though would qualify as my Personal Manifesto™ (in 550 words or so) in the form of an Op-Ed piece for the Reno Gazette Journal. I finished it and sent it to them about three days before the story broke about Gannett and crowdsourcing. I’d like to think that’s the reason they never printed it (it was not really a new idea anymore) but I’ll never know because nobody answered the two emails I sent asking them to confirm they even received it. So maybe they never got it. The piece, in its entirety and free of any current editing is below:

Recently, the Reno Gazette-Journal has taken some major steps to offer the type of content that will drive the media going forward. By recognizing the presence of local blogs through the daily Blog Roundup that is posted on the website’s News Updates block and by allowing readers to upload photos and video, our local newspaper is moving toward delivering the perfect combination of citizen and professional journalism.

We’re living in a very interesting time. Everywhere we look, there is discussion of how blogs will fit in with the “Old Media” like newspapers and television. Far too often, the blogs decry the old media for failing in some respect or another. As a blogger myself, I’m certainly not here to do that.

By now we all know that the popular video uploading website, YouTube, was purchased by Google for around $1.5 billion. YouTube made its name by allowing the average internet user to post a video he or she made so the world could view it for free. Its popularity is unmatched on the web today.

That’s an important thing to note. People want to see what other people create. And the future of media generated by the public is media that is inherently local. We need more passionate locals giving us news about our local areas.

The RGJ has also started a section called “Neighborhoods.” The city is divided into different areas that qualify as a distinct neighborhood, and the news reported there is specific to that area. What better place to start using bloggers, amateur videographers and other interested members of the public to expand coverage of the city beyond the traditional newspaper beats?

Nobody knows the city better than its residents. When the RGJ recognizes locals who write about the city, they are doing all of its citizens a great service. They are pointing readers to passionate amateur journalists who love Reno, Sparks, Carson City and all other surrounding areas just as much as the readers do.

They are also directing readers to conversations. Blog posts, uploaded videos and podcasts are meant to start conversations. Engagement of the public surrounding them is usually the main reason for posting them at all.

Everyone wins in this situation. The readers win because they get more bang for their buck. The amateurs win because their profile increases. The media outlet wins because they can free up resources to work on those things the public has been asking for.

Make no mistake – money will be a factor. With the increase in readership the bloggers will garner from this partnership, the revenue streams that bloggers usually get with click-through ads or by selling ads outright (currently a pittance at the very best), will increase, providing further incentive to continue the work that they love. The newspaper’s cost will be nothing, and will be providing a much better service to the community. With that, it stands to gain readership as well.

As I see it, the risk involved is minimal. Even if the worst comes to bear – like potential hoaxes or outright lying to prove a point – the strength of the community will be such that the individual perpetrating the offense will lose his or her credibility. As readers, it will be our duty to play that role in the community.

The content is already out there; someone just needs to pull it all together. The Reno Gazette-Journal has an opportunity to be a leader in its industry by doing something now that every paper across the country will be doing eventually. There really is nothing to lose. So let’s get moving and make Reno a place where the innovation happened early, instead of too late.

Some of that could be revised to more directly address the current thinking on how to make this work. But it digs right at the core for me – the blogger. I see bloggers being the people who take on the things that interest them in their community instead of the newspaper sending reporters into places they’d rather not be and telling them to show the passion in that area. Especially when there are deadlines. Sometimes these stories just can’t be done on that quick of a turnaround.

Think about this, for example. Probably the best piece I saw on the closing of Deux Gros Nez was not the video produced by the RGJ. It was this from Zack Sheppard. His piece had more feeling and will be what I remember and point to when I tell someone about the place. Why is it that the RGJ couldn’t have asked Zack if they could use that? Or better yet, why not just link to him and any other post about Deux Gros Nez, like maybe this one, which leads us to this page? Instead, the RGJ, based on the credits, put four staffers on that video. The other pieces are pieces I’ll remember longer because I feel like they were more genuine.

So, in going back to the question Myrna asked, I think the only way for it to work is for both to happen. Not one or the other. Media companies will definitely try to use the wisdom that the crowd generates to make some money, but if that makes for better journalism, what’s wrong with it? I get that independents want to have their share of the cash that’s floating around. I want mine, too. But I have to say that if you’re getting into blogging because you think it’s the next great business opportunity, I don’t want any part of you. Blogging’s roots come from the desire to build something better. That’s what we’re doing here. It’s as democratic as it gets. We’re trying to make knowledge a more prevalent thing. If Gannett, or any other media company, wants to do the same thing, let’s get after it with them.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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