10 things we can say about citizen journalism…

Or more precisely, 10 personal reflections on the interface between CJ and the mainstream media.
1) When you turn on the user-generated tap, you risk getting drowned in content.
2) Most of this content will be crap. Putting a badge on it doesn’t make it less crap.
3) A small percentage of UGC has real value in a news context.
4) Extracting that value from all the crap is difficult. You need filters to find quality.
5) Filtering content with humans is reliable but heavy on resources (bums on seats).
6) Asking a community to filter content is brave but possibly foolish. The system can will always be manipulated.
7) Some people will contribute valuable content for the sake of contributing.
8) Others won’t.
9) There’s no necessary correlation between the value of content and the motivation of the content creator. But punters are getting smarter. They’re not so inclined to give valuable stuff away.
10) The killer business model for citizen journalism is… [fill in the blank] Obviously I could be completely wrong about point 6 (and all the others). Maybe a community can moderate itself and set and follow a meaningful agenda without external guidance.
But I doubt it. Let’s have another look at CNN’s iReport.com (a site I had fun with here). In the ‘Newsiest Now’ showcase panel today, there are seven stories. Six of these concern living with autism, and the other has pictures of tornado damage in Oklahoma.

cnn ireport

So what’s going on? Clearly, the community wants to talk about autism. That may seem commendable. It’s setting its own agenda. You could argue that CNN is providing a platform that will spread awareness of autistic spectrum disorders, which has to be a Good Thing.
I would argue that the system has been manipulated by a special interest group. It’s probably unintentional but nevertheless an echo chamber has formed. Today, iReport is all about autism; tomorrow, it might be a Mac versus PC debate, or shark versus crocodile, or literally anything else at all. You choose. Anything goes. There’s zero focus.
Where’s the news value here? Why would you return to iReport tomorrow? It’s just noise.
Sure, from CNN’s perspective, that’s ok. Its editors can syphon off the occasional valuable nugget without devoting any resources to filtering the noise. I get it. It’s kind of smart, in the short term. But it’s all too easy – and always will be – for special interests to shout loudest and dominate. Is that sustainable? How long can such a site keep its audience or its contributors?
UPDATE: Rick Waghorn spots that iReport has added an explanation about what ‘newsiest now’ actually means – and suggests, rightly in my first-glance opinion, that they’re editing by the back door.