Friday, August 26, 2011

"New journalism" and potential backlash

Hurricane Irene approaches Tybee Island, Ga. AP Photo/Stephen Morton
There are a thousand names for what's happening in newsrooms across the country: new journalism, crowdsourcing, community-assisted journalism, iReporting. It's an attempt to get real people in our communities involved in the content they see in newspapers, TV news reports, online news sites and radio news broadcasts.

On its face it is a great idea. Ordinary people not only having a say in what's covered, but actually providing coverage. Cash-strapped and staff-starved newsrooms in every type of media imaginable use this type of reporting to bolster news coverage and give their consumers ownership of the news.

But there's a seemier side to the issue.

This method of news coverage not only helps put professional journalists trained in objectivity out of a job, but it can cast doubt over a submission's authenticity and whether the source of a piece of video/photo/story has a bias or other motive than objective coverage, which casts even more doubt over a news organization's credibility.

But let's even put THAT aside for a moment. Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing this week over a couple of requests from news organizations looking for help in covering major news stories. It's not uncommon. Both Facebook and Twitter are excellent resources for journalists to connect with sources, as revolutionary to news coverage as the cell phone, telephone and the various news wire services were before them.

The Associated Press has taken some heat on Facebook this week after putting out a plea for video coverage of Tuesday's earthquake in Virginia. Before the discussion was hijacked, posters questioned whether they would get paid and why AP wasn't doing their own reporting work. Yet, videos and photos galore have appeared across the Internet and on social networking sites.

Today, the Christian Science Monitor put out a tweet suggesting people tag storm photos so they can be retweeted by CSM. Now, this has been hashed out many times. How can a news organization, even back-handedly, ask citizens to venture out into a dangerous situation to take pictures or video for them? I'm sure any damage to life or property would be reimbursed by CSM, right? What about compensation for helping CSM make money as a news source?

Then there's the question of safety. The National Weather Service has called hurricane Irene the most dangerous storm to hit the east coast in decades. People should take cover, not video with their cell phones. How bad would a news director or editor feel if they found out someone died trying to get a picture of a hurricane for their organization's photo gallery?

There are professional photographers and videographers in the region that specialize in covering hurricanes and know how to stay safe in these situations. There's no way I'd blast off into a hurricane to shoot pictures without proper equipment and training in how to stay safe.

It's a sticky wicket to be sure. On one hand you have the need for news organizations to cover the news in any way possible, including asking for help from their consumers. On the other hand, why should consumers participate in news coverage by an organization when all that is needed is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.?


Mike Lagerquist said...

Great points, Pat. Sort of a 21st century continuation of the discussion over the use of anonymous sources or paid tipsters. It's one thing when people choose to do it on their, but something entirely different when they're enticed to do so for the promise of money.

Where's Snooki when you need her on the Jersey Shore?

Mike Lagerquist said...

Sorry, meant to say "when people choose to do it on their own."