Monthly Archives: November 2009

It’s a grim argument against crowd sourcing

In case you don’t follow Clay Shirkey on Twitter, I noticed that he sent this tweet out, interestly, without comment:

cshirky “Many of Moore’s eye-witness tweets from Ft. Hood had no value whatsoever, except as entertainment and tragi-porn.”

Here is the article:  NSFW: After Fort Hood, another example of how ‘citizen journalists’ can’t handle the truth by Paul Carr. He also says in it:

Two weeks ago, I wrote here about how the ‘real time web’ is turning all of us into inhuman egotists. How we’re increasingly seeing people at the scene of major accidents grabbing their cellphones to capture the dramatic events and share them with their friends, rather than calling 911.

That reminded me of a traumatic moment I had at Grand Central the day a steam pipe burst, killing one driver and injuring dozens. The ground was shaking, the noise was tremendous, some people were running past me like startled deer….and there was a group of people standing in the street, shooting the swirling tower of steam with their cell phones. They were oblivious of the danger or fear around them. Knowing it was their first response within minutes of the event, it was an odd site. (However, thanks to one of them, I’m able to link to a scene of the event and give you more context!)

The level of protest like Carr’s is rising against news organizations working with everyday people who happen to be armed with recording equipment. Perhaps it’s partly motivated by journalists feeling a desire for job protection, but there is also truth to what Carr says. This is an important conversation for journalists to have now, especially if any of us want to use crowd source reporting for real, going forward.  It’s an evolving form of journalism, so it is important for us to help define it–on air, via twitter, etc.

I’d be curious to hear other journalists’ responses to Carr’s argument. My response? The tools are out there. The “reporting” is going to happen. Here is our opportunity to talk with potential amateur reporters about the real Elements of Journalism and empower them to respond to events with the genuine instincts of a reporter as explained in Rosensteil & Kovach’s book. I say invite them to work with us. Devote the time to  proper training, both passively through broadcast and directly through meet-ups and station or newsroom talks open to the public.

If you didn’t watch the video by This American Life at the end of Carr’s post, it’s too much to explain, but one troubling scene is when the school administration decides the best way to handle all this “reporting” by the students is to destroy their homemade cameras. Trying to dampen any person’s impulse to share the story of what they witness, I think, is a terrible idea, and one we have seen many governments select as the most effective and even “moral” option. I would prefer to spend my time encouraging more people to participate in the elements of life around them and arm them to properly use the social tools we now have. We are in an exciting time of civic life, where more information is perhaps the cause of more participation. That can’t be a bad thing.



Filed under journalism