As I type this, I’m staring at the home page of iReport.com, CNN’s new foray into citizen journalism. It’s received a good amount of buzz recently as the latest attempt among many to bring “old media” into the 21st century. Expanding the previous iReport section into a full-blown site, CNN now allows user to submit, rank, and discuss video, audio and photos on any category of news. This is indeed interesting. The involvement of citizens in their media makes all the sense in the world. In an era of constant news and updates, citizen input is the logical next step toward a better understanding of… the NYC steam pipe explosion? Wait, what year is it again? Have I been written into an episode of Heroes?
I can see Chris shaking her head – we strive mightily to eliminate any trace of snark here on The Guidewire but sometimes I just can’t help myself. And it’s even easier to do when you’re talking about a billion-dollar corporation, rather than struggling entrepreneurs. Don’t get me wrong – the role of the user in news and media has gone from interesting to vital in recent years. Those who doubt that fact should refer to the monks’ protests in Burma last year, in which reports from citizens alerted the world to their plight.
But is some sort of demarcation needed? One of the commenters on the ReadWriteWeb piece I referenced above makes a good point. Theharmonyguy writes:
Not to endorse an aristocratic media structure, but personally, I think many consumers of news are not well-qualified to produce news…Take a look of [sic] what kinds of stories often rank in “most popular” lists on news sites, and check them for lasting significance. Americans gobble up gossip about Britney Spears, but how much do they know about tensions between India and Pakistan… I think many people, even news junkies, often ignore important news stories or fail to understand the context/implications of stories. A user-driven news site will not help this situation.
As someone who has always viewed Digg as inherently fallible due to this very reason, I have to agree. And yes, I see the irony in quoting a citizen on the pitfalls of citizen journalism. I’m falling down a rabbit hole here so I’ll make my point.
There are countless ways in which users can add to and build upon existing media outlets. Integrating users and their input adds layers to news stories that didn’t previously exist. But putting them in charge of the whole shebang results in two distinct scenarios: either a set group of users learns to game the system and you end up with simply another group of people dictating the news or odd stories with no current relevance find their way onto the front page, a la the NYC steam pipe explosion. Further evidence of this – a quick click on iReport’s ‘election’ tag returns result of which Mitt Romney are the top two.
Citizen journalism is an important piece of the Internet and 21st century media. But it doesn’t have to replace the old guard in order to be effective. I think CNN should re-absorb iReport into its existing site. I’ll find much more value in it alongside “old-school” reporting – and am more likely to frequent it.