Monday, April 21, 2008

Crowdsourcing? Consumer Advocacy? But don't necessarily call it "Citizen Journalism"

Apparenlty, over last week there was something of a tech watcher brouhaha over what CNet claimed to be a Mac clone maker, Psystar. Lots of people got on their keyboards and started looking up Pystar. CNet's article got 117 comments relating to the Psystar story. Others who weighed in were Charles Arthur at the Guardian and bunch of folks at Gizmodo

This lead CNet's Jim Kersteller to declare all this hubbub a victory for citizen journalism:
But there's one thing we know for sure: Citizen journalism has played a major role in ferreting out the Psystar story. And with that involvement, we're getting a better understanding of how mainstream newspapers can work with folks who aren't trying to make a living off gathering the news but are interested in telling the world what they know.


Uh....earth to Jim....

Let's take a closer look at what happened with the 117 comments on Tom Krazit's original story: it appears that a lot of people were really interested in hearing about this and did their own quick Google searches on the company name. Along with constructive comments are a number of the usual CNet kibitzing with wonderfully humorous headlines like "Is Pystar pronounced shyster?" and "Let's all stop hyperventilating, shall we?"

These great little comments can be seen as a kind of crowdsourcing. But hardly "citizen journalism"--

And then a couple of Gizmodo readers decided to check out a few things, just to see if Psystar had the Miami location claimed in the info the Guardian found...(btw, the Guardian article was written by a professional journalist-see the comments...)

Well, I can definitely say "Cool!" Some Gizmodo readers were available and wanted to check out what was what. Maybe, as a stretch, this is a kind of "citizen journalism" but...

Is it maybe even a form of consumer advocacy--where the potential consumers of the product went to ferret out a potential fraud?

So, this whole thing could be a good case for the power of crowdsourcing--perhaps crowdsourced consumer advocacy. But is it "citizen journalism"??

IMO, I'm getting very, very weary of folks like Kersteller, who obviously hasn't kept up with what's been going on regarding journalism and citizen involvement in journalistic projects like Assignment Zero or Off the Bus or kept up with Jeff Howe's Crowdsourcing blog before thinking that they're seeing the future and that only if newspapers would just take a look at what the Gizmodo folks did...

Further, there are some paradigms going on right now for people adding to stuff through comments (like on CNet)--it goes on to some degree over at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, albeit behind a paid wall, so don't bother to look. And it goes on to some degree over at Masslive.com in their Forums...

But is this "citizen journalism"--or is it folks conversing and sharing information, in a crowdsourcing model, to uncover more about something....

And then is *any* online uncovering of some issue (consumer fraud, etc.) automatically qualify the kibbitzing and commenting and actions of a few a form of "citizen journalism"??

I took a further bit of umbrage at Kersteller's suggestion that newspapers just ought to rely on the citizens to do their reporting for them. Argh! It's one thing when a bunch of computer geeks (who follow Gizmodo) have the time to get their knickers out of a bunch by investigating something like a potential Mac clone shop--or when local folks want to add what they're observing about, perhaps, an accident or fire. It is a completely different animal to advocate that all local reporting should take this model as Kersteller advocates.

It's one thing to channel the enthusiasm of tech geeks--another to say to the citizenry "sorry, we can't do the local reporting, it's your job now." One is specific and directed--the other is expecting free labor to keep a failing business model afloat with potentially free or drastically underpaid labor.

Then again, given recent articles in local papers about two friends' local businesses, which got everything wrong, one might be lead to believe the citizenry might do a better job...

But maybe it's not that we want the citizenry to do the reporters' jobs. Maybe it's more that we want the reporters to get the story right.

And if they're not--then fire the editors who are perhaps becoming those one too many cooks in the broth....

Just my $.02

2 comments:

Charles said...

Kersteller: "But there's one thing we know for sure: Citizen journalism has played a major role in ferreting out the Psystar story."

Which references the Guardian blog post *I* wrote - you know, a professional, full-time journalist (on a day when I was also editing a print section). Until then, *nobody* had bothered to find out a thing about Psystar. They just took its website at its word.

Geez. Seems like it's taken me 25 years of hard work to become a citizen journalist. Is that progress?

Tish Grier said...

Hi Charles, and thanks for the comment. and yes, it wasn't "citizen journalism" that got that story going--it was indeed your work as a journalist. And, as I mentioned, just because a couple of Miami-based Gizmodo readers decided to check things out, after reading your article, doesn't mean that what they did is the wave of the future and how everything should be done from here on out. There have been instances when citizens have ferreted out information, but this wasn't one of them.