Crowdsourcing the News

The Tow Centre for Digital Journalism has published a free guide to crowdsourcing news on GitBook this week.

The authors of the report, Mimi Onuoha, Jeanne Pinder, and Jan Schaffer, offer the following definition of crowdsourcing;

Journalism crowdsourcing is the act of specifically inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting task—such as newsgathering, data collection, or analysis—through a targeted, open call for input; personal experiences; documents; or other contributions.

They believe crowdsourcing is gaining momentum, as web technology allows for increased interactions between journalists and the audience.

Journalists can now quickly and seamlessly identify and track communities, organize data, follow real-time developments in breaking stories, and imagine a type of journalism that is less transactional and more about relationships. For digital-first startups, in particular, crowdsourcing provides a means of cultivating new audiences from scratch and producing journalism that delivers a more pronounced value proposition.

The report proposes and examines a number of ‘typologies’, which it says put journalists in the role of ‘content enablers’;

  1. Voting—prioritizing which stories reporters should tackle.
  2. Witnessing—sharing what you saw during a breaking news event or natural catastrophe.
  3. Sharing personal experiences—divulging what you know about your life experience. “Tell us something you know that we don’t know.”
  4. Tapping specialized expertise—contributing data or unique knowledge. “We know you know stuff. Tell us the specifics of what you know.”
  5. Completing a task—volunteering time or skills to help create a news story.
  6. Engaging audiences—joining in call-outs that range from informative to playful.

In conclusion the report says that crowdsourcing is currently a hit and miss practice, which is only championed by a select group of journalists rather than major publications (with the exception of the Guardian and ProPublica). The authors say that until better tools are made and better practices developed many publications will remain wary of investing more time in crowdsourcing. However the report also concludes that when it works well, crowdsourcing can produce great journalism;

Our research shows that crowdsourcing has been credited with helping to create amazing acts of journalism. It has transformed newsgathering by opening up unprecedented opportunities for attracting sources with new voices and information, allowed news organizations to unlock stories that otherwise might not have surfaced, and created opportunities for them to experiment with the possibilities of engagement just for the fun of it. In short, it has done just what the pundits predicted a decade ago: helped turn journalism into more of a conversation than a one-way megaphone.