The Bottom Line Of CrowdSourcing

crowdsourcing
Wired News
Gannett to Crowdsource News
By Jeff Howe

[…] According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

“This is a huge restructuring for us,” said Michael Maness, the VP for strategic planning of news and one of the chief architects of the project. According to an e-mail sent Thursday to Gannett news staff by CEO Craig Dubow, the restructuring has been tested in 11 locations throughout the United States, but will be in place throughout all of Gannett’s newspapers by May. “Implementing the (Information) Center quickly is essential. Our industry is changing in ways that create great opportunity for Gannett.”

[…]

Well, it looks like Jay Rosen‘s NewAssignment.net isn’t as much R&D as he and many others have thought.

Sure, Jay will have tons more room to explore the creation of a collaborative news model with value for the reader, the participants and the domain alike, but with this news from Gannett, it’s obvious that the owners of these newspapers are finally getting that change is an eventuality.

My question: Is their approach to CrowdSourcing as pure as Jay’s?

As Jay tells it, NewAssignment will evolve over time (without the pressures of a bottom line, as it’s root is based in academia), discovering and iterating different methods of collaboration with citizens who are willing to put time and effort into a story because it absolutely concerns them from either a personal or community perspective.

No matter how much Gannett, the organization, talks that talk, their institutional and primary shareholders will not allow them to walk that exact walk. This is not an egalitarian shift in operating procedures; this is a shift based purely on industry competition and the potential loss of capital.

The motivations of editors and journalists within these organizations align much more with the drivers behind NewAssignment, but the bottom line for their careers is that they are at the mercy of the business drivers of the Gannetts of the world. So when an organization decides to run in this direction, I can only imagine the types of conversations to be found at the water-cooler.

The Future Of CrowdSourcing

My net takeaway of this announcement from Gannett is positive, but only in as much as their organizational methodology doesn’t attempt to leverage the free output of people as a mechanism for reaching a bottom-line. For if people’s creativity, perspectives and thesis’ are tapped into—beyond the aforementioned proactive participation of watchdogging, whistle-blowing and researching—then we’re heading down a path that isn’t progressive; it’s a reversion to the underpinnings of the industrial revolution and the techniques of mass production, only now within the information age.

This isn’t an easy subject to take a position on because technology isn’t a static delivery platform. Take the search industry as an example.

When a search engine (corporation) indexes billions of web pages (other people’s work) and returns search results with advertising affixed, that search engine is essentially CrowdSourcing to establish their bottom-line. Now, because the vast majority of people and organizations whose web sites, blogs, services, applications, etc. receive a huge benefit of consistent exposure from such an arrangement, the search industry is considered to be a benefit rather than exploitation.

But a particular news organization does not fall into the same sphere as a search engine.

A search engine indexes everything, from the base domain to the most granular content found within. If/when news organizations venture beyond working the wisdom of the crowd in a participatory fashion, and begin to algorithmically tap into the meta-data of external amateur output—whether it be blog posts, video, photography, podcasts, etc.—the fine line between collaboration and exploitation will be crossed in order to impact the bottom-line.

Other people, afar and local, are thinking about these issues as well:

  • Chris Messina is a tireless advocate for community and open-source, so his perspective on CrowdSourcing goes even deeper into the fundamental drivers of our capitalistic society. This interview is an interesting conversation along these lines.
  • Local blogger, The Shu, posted his meandering thoughts along the lines of this very same issue early last year—particular to the announcement that the Greensboro News & Record planned on creating a “Town Square” with the participation of local bloggers—and was painted by journalists and many local bloggers in the comment thread as being everything but a conspiracy theorist.

In numerous circles, the term information age is considered synonymous with the term information revolution, but that association is tenuous at best in my mind.

Are we going to let the revolutionary aspects of technology explicitly serve the capital masters of the world, turning our personal expertise, opinions and creativity into the equivalent of a virtual assembly line of mass media production? I truly hope not.