Cash for (second-hand) content?

A week ago, TechCrunch reviewed DigitalJournal‘s citizen journalism relaunch. The thrust of the piece was the revenue share for contributors:

Digital Journal offers a Citizen Journalism site in a similar fashion to Instablogs, OhMyNews, Newsvine, Norg Media and others. Members contribute news items for the site, and in theory the wisdom of the crowd combines to create a Google friendly news resource. Where Digital Journal perhaps is a little different in this space is that it revenue shares with contributors, and has paid out $38,000 to CitJ’s already…

In the comments, DigitalJournal’s editor-in-chief Chris Hogg emphasises the difference between his site and, say, Newsvine:

Newsvine is of course the big kahoona but we also try to differentiate ourselves because we are a source of content rather than solely a link site. Newsvine has its columnists but it’s mainly powered by an AP feed and seeded links. I’m not knocking the site (there is a lot of value in these features) but we do look to try and stand out from a quality standpoint and provide actual information rather than simple click throughs to other stories.

That’s what caught my eye. One of the unanswered questions in the whole citizen journalism space is whether there’s enough fresh news to make a website like this work. God knows, mainstream newsrooms struggle to fill their pages and broadcasts so can a community-powered play really deliver something special?
Well, if DigitalJournal really wants to be a “source of content rather than solely a link site”, it needs to do more than re-report and rewrite the news.
Right now, the front page lead story is about Miley Cyrus apologising for some photos. According to DigitalJournal:

A source who is close to the singer said that Cyrus was clothed in the photos but she was in positions that made her appear to be topless. The photos that surfaced on the Internet show Cyrus draped over the lap of her then-boyfriend and in another photo she is seen showing part of her green bra. Bill O’Reilly, conservative TV commentator, voiced his criticism over the photos and the Jonas Brothers had some words of support… Vanity Fair did not respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment on Sunday but a spokes woman for Vanity Fair said that Miley’s parents were there all day and the photos were taken digitally and they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley.

Doesn’t that sound awfully similar to the original story on People?

A source close to the singer tells PEOPLE that Cyrus is clothed but shown by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz in such a way that that the teen appears to be topless. In the photos that circulated on the Internet, Cyrus, her midriff exposed, is shown draped over the lap of her then-boyfriend, her producer’s son. In another image, a hint of a green bra is evident. (Those photos alone prompted criticism from conservative TV commentator Bill O’Reilly, as well as words of support from the Jonas Brothers and a fellow Disney star.)… PEOPLE’s requests to Vanity Fair for comment were not answered on Sunday. In a statement to The New York Times, Beth Kseniak, a spokeswoman for both Vanity Fair and Leibovitz, said: “Miley’s parents and/or minders were on the set all day. Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley.”

Elsewhere on the front page, the story about a new sarcophagus for Chernobyl is a rewrite of a Yahoo story (supplied by – guess who – yep, AP); and the piece about releasing a list of the Top 10 criminal master players is just a churn of Forbes’ own story.
And so on, and so on. DigitalJournal may not be “solely a link site” but it’s largely a lift-tweak-recycle-and-hope-for-some-comments site. Is there a difference? Does it add value if a professionally produced story is rewritten by an amatuer?
This, from the site’s news tips section, says it all:

How Do I Find a Great News Story?
Journalism is born out of curiosity. Good reporters are always asking questions, always looking to find stories that the mainstream media misses. The best way to find a great story is by reading your favourite reputable newspapers or websites.

Indeed it is. Which is why DigitalJournal’s sleight-of-hand content-recycling masquerading as “The Power of Citizen Journalism” is misguided. But unfortunately, the alternative – producing fresh, original content that attracts an audience – is impossible (in my view), no matter how big or wise your ‘crowd‘. There just ain’t enough unreported news that anybody cares about to sustain an alternative, parallel, user-generated media that anybody cares about.
I used to believe that citizen journalism could reshape and broaden the news agenda. I’m pretty sure I was wrong. What it can do is augment mainstream coverage (to the good) and occasionally – very occasionally – generate a scoop or a bit of a bluster.
Is that it?