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How Citizen Journalism Can Vet Quality Through Lessons from Gaming

How Citizen Journalism Can Vet Quality Through Lessons from Gaming

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Dec 09, 2011
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Citizen Media Law Project 
Andrew Mirsky 
12/08/2011 - 4:48pm 
Unlike traditional newsroom journalists, “citizen journalists”have no formal way to ensure that everyone maintains similarquality standards. Which does not mean that qualitystandards are necessarily (or consistently) maintained attraditional newsrooms, but rather that a traditional hierarchicaleditorial structure imposes at least theoretical guidelines.By definition, citizen journalism’s inherent difference from thetraditional editorial process is the dispersion of responsibilityfor editorial choice. Nonetheless, “trustiness” in journalism is a concept still heavily dependenton a reporter’s or editor’s reputation. Is
The New York Times 
trusted because it’s trustworthy?Or is it trustworthy because it’s trusted?The “Generated By Users” journalism blog
recently reported the results of its reader poll, “Doyou TRUST user generated content in news?”[O]verall we like [user-generated content] but remain skeptical and need to know that it istrustworthy and adding value and perspective to reports. In an ever more connected worldwe can rely on UGC for immediate breaking news, but we want experienced journalists tosum up the day; if that requires using some UGC then we are fine with that, but it must becombined with original professional content.Crowd-sourced citizen journalism attempts to bridge the gap between the historical (back to2003 or so) understanding of “citizen journalism” and more recent efforts to create “virtual” newsoperations. So, for example, in 2007 the US State Department’s blog America.gov wrotethoughtfully
about the movement of established news organizations – the BBC, CNN, and
Le Monde 
were favorably cited – to integrate video, blogging, and other raw reporting coverage ofbreaking news events into regular news reporting. This trend had “becom[e] more of a dialoguebetween the providers and receivers of information, rather than an imposition of opinions andperspectives by an elite caste.”Still, reporting is being collated (an unfair characterization?) by established media intoseemingly traditional reporting. Or, better yet, the explosion of number, variety, and depth ofsources of news could make the producing of established reporting – digesting, analyzing,summarizing, and storytelling – that much better-sourced in the hands of writers, reporters, andeditors who know how to bring it all together.Crowd-sourced journalism is not without downsides. From America.gov’s 2007 report:On the negative side, the Internet has opened up extraordinary new possibilities for the
How Citizen Journalism Can Vet Quality Through Lessons from Gaminghttp://www.citmedialaw.org/print/86721 of 312/10/2011 8:40 AM
widespread and sometimes dangerous manipulation of information, which is difficult, if notimpossible, to stem. This phenomenon will increasingly place a heavy responsibility onprofessional journalists to maintain high standards of fact-checking, honesty, and objectivity.Editors are already spending enormous amounts of time verifying and authenticatinguser-generated pictures and text, and this will only become a more time-consuming part oftheir jobs. Blog posts and comments require careful and regular scrutiny.It is true that the explosion of
of information – just like the avalanche of the rawinformation itself via wide, public availability of data – makes the jobs of journalists morecomplex, but that may not be all that much of a change. Reporting has always required judgment calls by reporters on the quality of and proper weight to be given to sources. Thedifference now is the number of sources of where information is coming from, and who has theability to monitor how it is used.If a structural problem for “citizen journalism” is an inability to generate consistency in quality – “editorial standards” – why not remedy that problem with some of the same technology thatmakes citizen journalism possible in the first place?That is the approach of a number of projects discussed in a recent
Columbia Journalism Review 
, including Citizenside
, Digital Journal
, and NowPublic
. These sites use conceptsfrom online gaming, including point tallies, rankings, and accompanying cash and non-cashrewards.Borrowing these techniques from online gaming may prove advantageous to reward those whoproduce quality content. A recent panel during Washington, D.C.’s “Digital Capital Week” (DCWeek), on “The Future of Publishing,”
featured Washington-based NewsIt
, a self-described“mobile sharing network for creating and sharing news.” Like its competitors discussed by
,NewsIt espouses the “gamification” of news, using math to rank “top citizen correspondents”.The technology is built on an algorithm, and the distinguishing characteristic seems to be thestrength (or weakness) of that particular algorithm to discern quality reporting.Such an algorithm necessarily chooses different factors from the comparable calculi ofcompeting services, and then weights those factors in whatever unique way chosen by itsproponent. The idea is terrific for setting up predictability for news sourcing, though it seemsalso vulnerable to its own being “gamed” (irony not intended) by users who can figure out thesystem. Of course, that, too, is hardly news, as demonstrated by other algorithm-basedservices like Google Search, constantly tweaking its formula to stay ahead of the gamers.
Andrew Mirsky is an attorney and Principal of Mirsky & Company, PLLC 
, a law firm with particular emphasis in new media, intellectual property, technology, corporate and nonprofits.Andrew has 17 years’ experience as a business and commercial lawyer, including 5 years’ experience in company management of media and technology enterprises.Kate Tummarello 
, a Research and Social Media Intern with Mirsky & Company and a reporter at Roll Call/Congressional Quarterly 
, contributed to this post.
Image of Space Marine Community Event in the UK courtesy of Flickr user THQ Insider 
licensed under a Creative Commons BY ND 2.0 license 
United States Aggregation
Source URL (retrieved on
12/08/2011 - 8:04pm 
ow Citizen Journalism Can Vet Quality Through Lessons from Gaminghttp://www.citmedialaw.org/print/8672of 312/10/2011 8:40 AM

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