The revolution of the World Wide Web, coupled with the rise of social media, has shaped the future of the journalism industry by changing the way journalists source stories. In the digital age where everyone owns a smart phone, citizens have the opportunity to share information, images and videos with news outlets in a matter of seconds. They become the reporter. The revolution of crowdsourcing, although nothing new, is transforming regular, everyday citizens from an unthinking herd into critically-thinking citizen journalists, who ultimately support and feed the journalism function.
So, what is crowdsourcing? In a 2006 Wired magazine article, Jeff Howe, professor of journalism at Northeastern University in the U.S. stated, “Crowdsourcing is the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of a specialized few.” As the following video below illustrates, crowdsourcing is far from parvenue. In fact, the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary published in the 19th Century employed crowdsourcing to garner a list of commonly-used words to be included in the dictionary. Over a period spanning 70 years, six million contributions were made, highlighting an early, but significant form of crowdsourcing, just as we are witnessing today. Wikipedia is also another well known example of crowdsourcing.
As the video highlights, when it comes to crowdsourcing, the accuracy of material obtained is questionable. Queensland University of Technology journalism lecturer and media expert Susan Hetherington says crowdsourcing is “only as good as your crowd.” In the Online Journalism Review, journalist Robert Niles says in a true crowdsourced project, “information is not verified manually by a reporter between submission and publication, which inspires concern from many traditional reporters.” On the other hand, reporter Paul Lewis claims crowdsourcing means everyone is a potential news source, which expands the array of information available to the journalist and the news organisation.
“For the journalist, it means accepting that you can’t know everything, and allowing other people, through technology, to be your eyes and your ears. For members of the public, it can mean not just being passive consumers of news, but also co-producing news. I believe this can be a really empowering process. It an enable ordinary people to hold powerful organisations to account.”
You can watch his interesting and insightful presentation regarding crowdsourcing to a bunch of journalism students in full below:
Paul Brannan, editor of emerging platforms at the BBC, says the organisation has found “fantastic success” with crowdsourced content. “It’s lit up our journalism for the last five years. People offer us pictures every single day on the web, a call on Five 5 for people connected to specific events will get people coming back in spade loads,” he says. Similarly, Steve Buttry says old-school journalists should “embrace” crowdsourcing because they have always worked hard to find good sources in the community. “Crowdsourcing gives us more efficient techniques for finding sources,” Buttry says.
Further, in his book ‘Here Comes Everybody’, American writer Clay Shirky uses the phrase “the Internet runs on love” to describe the nature of crowdsourcing for journalists today. He points to four key steps, which are described below:
- Sharing – a sort of ‘me-first collaboration’, in which the social effects are aggregated after the fact. People share links, tags, pictures, and eventually come together around a type.
- Conversation – the synchronisation of people with each other and the coming together to learn more about something and to get better at it. It is also here we normally see the first formation of a community.
- Collaboration – a group forms under the purpose of some common effort. It requires a division of labor, and teamwork. It can often be characterized by people wanting to fix a failure, and is motivated by increasing accessibility.
- Collective action – the fate of the group as a whole becomes important. “We are experiencing an era where people like to produce and share just as much, if not more, than they like to consume. Since technology has made the producing and sharing possible, we will see a new era of participation that will lead to major change.”
According to dailycrowdsource.com, there are three predominant ways in which crowdsourcing is “pwining” journalism. Firstly, they suggest journalists are calling on citizens to help uncover breaking news stories, otherwise known as investigative work. For example, UK newspaper The Guardian used crowdsourcing to document the London riots. Secondly, journalists use the crowd for general information regarding a topic or subject that is relatable to their daily lives, often referred to as general observation. For example, many newspapers called upon society to email, Tweet or send in comments regarding the London Olympics to support, and add visual depth to their stories. Thirdly, journalists heavily rely on citizens or crowdsourcing to break completely new stories that are unbeknownst to the journalist. For example, when suicide bombers attacked the London Underground in 2005, trapped survivors captured videos of the aftermath on their smart phones. Journalist David Zax’s suggested crowdsourcing rules include know your audience, know your brand and crowdsource “organically”.
In sum, it is evident that crowdsourcing or crowdsourced journalism is becoming a more prevalent part of the journalism industry, as we see citizens play an increasingly important role in the sourcing, capturing and producing of news. However, it must be kept in mind that your source or information is only as good as your crowd. It is apparent that citizens and society in general play a crucial role in breaking, developing and assisting the production of news stories today, and this role will become all the more important in the future.
The rapid growth of social media, particularly blogs, has exposed journalists to the online world like never before. In turn, new media has provided ordinary citizens with the opportunity to have their voices heard on a multi-national platform at the click of a button. Former journalist-turned-full-time-professional-blogger Nikki Parkinson (@stylingyou), who was named the Best Australian Blogger of 2011, argues the line between journalists and bloggers are becoming “quite blurred.” Her question to QUT journalism students was: “Are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers?” Parkinson believes journalists are “threatened” by the rise of bloggers, as their influence on the media landscape and society in general continues to prosper.
In their book ‘The Executive’s Guide to Enterprise Social Media Strategy’, Mike Barlow and David Thomas claim the majority of practicing journalists are also active bloggers, and it is this cross-section that blurs the lines between the blogger and the journalist. “If you want to see these blurry lines, try to define the differences among bloggers, journalists, analysts and consultants. One person might wear one, two, three or all of those hats.”
Further, an ‘Editors Talk‘ forum in August where a panel of journalists and bloggers sat down to discuss the ramifications of the online world, panel member and editor of the New Yorker Henry Finder acknowledged the line between journalism and blogging has become obscure. However, he believes the general population understands the difference between opinion and what you find in the international section of the newspaper. “Hopefully the convergence of journalism and blogs won’t come at the expense of truth and accuracy,” he said. “People turn to blogs for a different thing. From a blog often what we want is the snarp, the attitude, the pirouetting – the subjectivity.”
Fellow panel member and winner of the Best Australian Blog for 2012 Eden Riley says whilst journalism is ‘proper’, blogging is not, showing not even bloggers themselves believe they play the same role as journalists. ”I hold hope that my (probably widely-shared) view will change. I hope that blogging will be an inherent and valued part of the new global media landscape.” ABC News Director Kate Torney holds interactivity and audience engagement are the keys to the industry’s future success. “I don’t know where the global media landscape will be in ten years or twenty years, but I’m pretty confident that beautifully crafted stories, probing investigative journalism and public interest reporting with strong and trusted news brands will be very much a part of that landscape,” she said. To listen to her speech about the future of media at Melbourne’s Press Club in February, watch the video below:
Additionally, in her blog post entitled ‘Blogging and Journalism. Not the same thing’, Allison Lee argues to recognise the difference between bloggers and journalists, we need to avoid mistaking influence for journalism. Lee attributes different agendas, formats, approaches to writing styles, remuneration and experience as lines in the sand between bloggers and journalists. She goes on to say, “Blogging isn’t going to replace journalism any time soon. In the brave new digital world, there’s room for journalists and bloggers. Just don’t expect them to do the same thing or tell the same story.” Although both blogging and journalism serve a public story-telling, information-dissemination function, Jay Rosen believes “blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people.”
Lauren Fisher, media guru and founder of simplyzesty.com, says the debate isn’t about whether you are a journalist or a blogger, rather it is actually about the quality of the content you are producing and sharing. “It’s the substance that matters, not the title of the person that wrote it. And if they’re getting paid for what they write as well – then good on them for making a living out of it,” she says.
Lastly, Rosen argues journalists today are under increased pressure to produce accurate online stories in an accelerated manner. He claims this stress stems from five sources, which are outlined below:
- A collapsing economic model, as print and broadcast dollars are exchanged for digital dimes.
- New competition (the loss of monopoly) as a disruptive technology, the Internet, does its thing.
- A shift in power. The tools of the modern media have been distributed to the people formerly known as the audience.
- A new pattern of information flow, in which “stuff” moves horizontally, peer to peer, as effectively as it moves vertically, from producer to consumer.
- The erosion of trust (which started a long time ago but accelerated after 2002) and the loss of authority.
In sum, those who draw a distinction between blogging and journalism are correct in asserting the majority of bloggers have little to no interest in proper journalism practices and standards, whilst the blogosphere is largely dominated by opinion writing, rather than news writing. So, are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers? It could be argued when a good blogger undertakes investigative reporting to deliver a post that includes accurate, truthful, clear facts and a range of balanced sources, then that is, simply, journalism.
Linda Goldspink-Lord posted the above comment on Channel Seven’s Facebook page in July after the network invaded her privacy whilst coming to terms with the loss of her 13-year-old daughter, Molly Jean Lord, who died after a freak quad bike accident. The network dispatched a camera crew, a links truck and a helicopter to the Lord family’s Wollongong property. The cameraman on board filmed pictures of Molly’s body, covered by a white sheet, which were broadcast to air. Mrs Goldspink-Lord was, understandably, distraught by the intrusion.
The comment brewed a social media storm, attracting more than 32,000 ‘Likes’ and 2,000 comments on Facebook alone in less than 30 hours. What created even more public furore was the fact that Channel Seven not only took down the video from their website, but they also removed the comment from their Facebook page, despite the network later claiming the removal was an “error”. As outlined in ABC’s Media Watch program, Channel 7 clearly breached the Media Alliance’s Code of Ethics, which states:
11. Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
– MEAA Code of Ethics
This story had me thinking. What are the ethical guidelines for journalists in an online environment? Should today’s ethical framework include social media management? Are existing media ethics suitable for new age journalists in an increasingly immediate and interactive sphere?
The rise of social media has led to the power of the people. That is, citizens not only have the means to publish, but also the ability to hold journalists accountable. Stephen Ward from The Centre for Journalism Ethics asserts most media ethics principles were developed in the mid to late-90s, “originating in the construction of professional, objective ethics for mass commercial newspapers.” Flash-forward to the 21st Century where society, Ward says, is moving towards a “mixed news media” model. A model screaming out for a modernised set of media ethics that apply to both citizen and professional journalists whether they “blog, Tweet, broadcast or write for newspapers.” However, the “ethical challenge” in developing social media guidelines, is allowing reporters to engage in new media, whilst drawing limits on “personal commentary”, says Ward.
Additionally, Poynter says “user-generated content adds diverse voices and opinions to an organization’s journalism, contributes to journalists’ credibility and enhances our mission as trusted guides.” Poynter also contends that in order for ethical standards to be effective, contributors (i.e. everyday citizens) must “know and understand the consequences” of actions that violate guidelines for user-generated content. Consequences include deleting links, deleting comments and blocking users. However, I find it hard to comprehend that Mrs Lord “violated” the guidelines, which Poynter suggests, should form the backbone of today’s ethical framework for journalists. These guidelines state user-generated content should not contravene the following:
- Personal attacks
- Witch hunts
- Privacy violations
- Ethnic or racial slurs
- Copyright and trademark infringements
Therefore, according to these guidelines, Channel 7 did not have the right to remove Mrs Lord’s comment. Liz Pope from communication strategy company Arment Dietrich says a code of journalism ethics needs to be redefined to include social media practices, as well as bloggers and citizen journalists themselves. Steve Buttry, Director of Community Engagement and Social Media at Digital First Media, also vows although the core journalistic ethical principles “remain the heart of good ethics”, organisations seldom incorporate or mention journalistic social media policies.
So how do journalists and news media organisations engage in fair, balanced and reliable practices, when a concrete social media management framework fails to be incorporated into global ethics standards? My question exactly.