Archive for April, 2010

When News Breaks, Prejudice Against Citizen Journalists Better Be Fixed

April 25, 2010

It’s one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. Convinced that amateurs can’t produce real news, legacy media outlets make a token commitment to citizen journalism efforts that virtually assures they won’t.

While not universal, such prejudice is common. It’s understandable and not completely unhealthy. If only to protect their own jobs, few professionals are going place audience contributors on equal footing with themselves. And in only limited cases is it in a news organization’s interest to rely exclusively on citizen participators.

Newsrooms that aren’t supplementing their coverage with user contributions, however, are doing themselves and their audiences a disservice, especially when it comes to breaking news.

Every person carrying a smartphone is a potential one-man or one-woman news organization. Even in small communities, there are dozens or even hundreds of these on-demand news companies. Chances are good that at least one of them is going to beat the official news companies to the scene. When they do, I bet even the staunchest citizen journalism critics are wishing they had a framework in place for soliciting, reviewing and publishing amateur content.

It behooves newsrooms to devise a plan ahead of time. Developing processes on the fly distracts journalists from their primary mission — reporting — and increases the chances they’ll overlook something, causing them to miss out on a valuable piece of user-generated content, get it too late, or worse, publish something that conflicts with editorial policies, or even worse, with copyright or defamation laws.

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Is Google Making Us Dumb? Yes, No and Maybe

April 16, 2010

Google logo inside brain illustration.WGHP-TV reporter Bob Buckley recently visited my Citizen and Participatory News class for a technology story he was working on. His question for me and my classmates? “Is Google making us stupid?” Having studied Google extensively over the past year, especially in my Contemporary Media Issues class this spring, I had an answer — well, three answers — at the ready.

Yes

Google search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube, Google Analytics, Google Maps. Google’s products are so ubiquitous and so easy to use, there’s so much available with one free username and password, that people maybe aren’t being as smart as they should be with their own data.

I said Google’s free, but it really isn’t. There are potential costs to sharing so much of your life with one company. I don’t think that’s something a lot of people think about.

No

Google is one of the most successful, most powerful companies in the world. Competitors and even companies in other industries — though, there are fewer and fewer industries into which Google’s tentacles don’t reach — are going to try to copy it.

Google’s more than 10 years old, yet, with its 20 percent time and we-can-do-anything idealism, it still behaves very much like a startup. Not to say there aren’t privacy, intellectual property and other concerns that come along with this, but if more companies shared Google’s ethos, the world would probably be smarter.

Maybe

Google search invites and rewards curiosity. Because it’s so easy to get answers, people ask more questions. Even if searchers accept the first result as the final word on their question, if it’s a question they otherwise wouldn’t have asked, they’ve arguably been made smarter.

Google should be a starting point, not an ending point, however. Terminating all of life’s questions at the first search result, or even the 10th, 50th or 100th, severely limits one’s potential for intellectual growth. Google puts one on the path to knowledge. The onus is on the user to see the journey through.