Citizen Journalists In a Wired World

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In response to the likes of Wikipedia, MySpace and YouTube, Wired has launched its own brave new media world. It’s called Assignment Zero, and is the latest in “new, new journalism” crowd sourcing experiments.

Wired’s idea for radical transparency is simple: put a ton of citizen journalists to work by asking them not just to comment on the news, but have them report it. It’s a blogger’s paradise. But their idea isn’t new. Spin.com offers a similar program for music enthusiasts, allowing them to cover live music events as “Spin Correspondents and get a website byline.”

Rolling Stone’s in the the game, too. Their I’m From Rolling Stone reality show was essentially televised crowd sourcing for hipsters hungry for a gig with the magazine. Remember Gannett a year ago announced its big crowd sourcing plans to turn its newsroom into an “information center” that asks local residents to help with stories?

Crowd sourcing engages people by putting them right into the action. It has the power to improve content and encourage a broader dialogue from the ground up.

Widespread civic participation in newsgathering is exciting for journalism and content creation. That said, crowd sourcing is also chaotic, unorganized and a little shady. Media organizations can rake in tons of free content while continuing to merge and purge unchecked. And, general public trust in the media is still riding a little low on the hips. Maybe this will help, maybe not.

One 2005 study found that only 45% of the public thinks news organizations generally get their facts straight, a 2007 study says that less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the press, and a 2004 Gallup Poll suggests that people don’t particularly trust journalists and haven’t since at least the 70s.

So, when pollsters start evaluating citizen journalists about the quality of the new, new journalism they’ve helped create, what will the people think then?

—Gary Moskowitz

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