Nieman Foundation at Harvard
BREAKING: The ways people hear about big news these days; “into a million pieces,” says source
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Feb. 4, 2009, 8:47 a.m.

Embrace the crowd, already

And now, a brief commercial interruption.

This ad, which you most certainly remember from the Super Bowl, was not created by the advertising priesthood. It was made by two guys for a couple thousand dollars. And it got the top rating at the annual USA Today post-game ad ranking.

Two lessons in that for our own priesthood:

1. If you haven”t noticed already, the means of production are in the hands of the masses. They’re making ads, yes, but they’re also making content. A lot of it. This whole “citizen journalism” thing has been debated so long that it quietly happened behind our backs. Take a stroll through YouTube and enter your own city as a keyword and you’ll be amazed at what you see and what you learn.

2. Instead of getting worked up over this, start building systems that welcome and capitalize on reporting done in your market outside of the traditional structures of newspaper or broadcast journalism. Some ideas:

Easy: Make it somebody’s job to harvest interesting local content from YouTube every day and embed it on your site. Yes, the content is already there, but if your reporter becomes a trusted filter for the fire hose of YouTube, then your site becomes a destination.

Harder: Solicit photos and videos from users, but do it intelligently. Just about everyone puts out the call for snow pictures or hurricane damage, but what about a call for features? Could your photo editor have a daily or weekly blog feature with a themed assignment? How about a metro-wide project to document broken sidewalks or mom and pop stores going out of business in the recession? The key is to set the table and make the specific ask. And then actually use the content, both in print and online.

Harder yet: You have an assignment desk. Why not supplement that and create an assignment market for photos and video. There are far more scheduled events in a given day than your staff can handle, yet there are thousands of people in your market with the means to cover them rattling around in their coat pockets. Build a database where events that you need covered are posted, with a price you’re willing to pay and the minimum deliverables (5 minutes of video, 5 usable photos, etc.). That’s right: pay. You expect a check at the end of the week. So should your crowdsourced content creators. After all, that Doritos ad wasn’t shot just for the love of the crunchy cheese.

That’s just three quick ideas to stir the pot. What are some good examples of news organizations embracing and/or encouraging meaningful participation? Are there projects that are bubbling up in your market?

POSTED     Feb. 4, 2009, 8:47 a.m.
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