“Crowd Powered Media” can’t be Crap

Citizen journalism is a great idea; and hats off to NowPublic for being recognized for their efforts in this area:

NowPublic announced Monday that the fast-growing citizen journalism website has scored 10.6 million dollars (US) in financing to fuel its drive to become the world’s largest news agency.

The Vancouver-based start-up says it is growing at a rate of 35 percent monthly and has nearly 120,000 contributing “reporters” in more than 140 countries.

In part of a trend referred to as “citizen journalism,” NowPublic lets anyone with digital cameras or a camera-enable mobile telephones upload images or news snippets for dissemination via the Internet.

Citizen journalism website gets multi-million-dollar boost

But a quick check for stories on the site exposed the problem with “Crowd Powered Media” – a lot of it really sucks. I decided to check my local news on the site. It correctly determined that I was in Natick and served up what meager content it had – photos from the 2006 Boston Marathon. Not exactly the kind of current information I was looking for.

Further down the page there were sections for Massachusetts and US News. One of the stories, “The Couple Founds Out That Freedom Of Speech Was History,” caught my eye due to it’s strange headline. I clicked through to the original story and was confronted with some of the most perplexing prose imaginable. Here’s just a taste:

Do you know why the communist regime and the many dictatorship regimes had got their ways? Do you know why the peoples that still live in such a regime are suffering? These evil regimes had got their ways because they depended on the ignorances of the peoples, and the more peoples that were less educated the better for them to carry out their suppressive plans.

Huh? I don’t know – perhaps English is the writer’s second language. From his profile I was not able to learn much. I did see that he recommends that kids get their parents’ permission before reading the site. An excellent recommendation.

I read a number of stories in different categories and found that most of them were pretty bad. I’m all for user generated content and citizen journalism; but those things can’t simply become synonyms for shitty writing. Based on what I saw on NowPublic, that’s a real risk. To make matters worse, Time Magazine has named the site one of the 50 Best Web Sites of 2007.

Social media and user generated content are still nascent and need to prove their merits to a largely skeptical society. Producing sub-sub-sub-par content, while perhaps satisfying for its creators, may well alienate the people this new media is intended to serve.

[tags]NowPublic, Citizen Journalism, Crowd Powered Media, News, Social Media, Journalism[/tags]

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2 thoughts on ““Crowd Powered Media” can’t be Crap

  1. That’s the problem with over-arching sites like that – Until they get a critical mass, you’re left with dregs. Backfence failed because it tried to expand too fast. Maybe the answer’s in hyperlocal sites actually run by local people. Not as sexy, doesn’t attract the VC crowd, but doesn’t attract the loons, either.

  2. gpc says:

    I think hyperlocal makes sense – and then for someone to aggregate the best of the local content into a network. The net result would be an essentially national site but with all content starting locally. Anything like this also ought to be wiki-based to allow editing and input. User generated news is a great idea but there are skills to journalism that not everyone has.

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