Jeff Howe is a journalist, currently a contributing editor at Wired Magazine and an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University. He is credited with coining the term “crowdsourcing” in his 2006 book “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.”
Click here to watch Jeff’s interview, “Crowdsourcing the News.”
How has crowdsourcing changed the news?
Jeff: I think that enabling collective action, enabling cooperation, census-building, and all the usually positive things that happen when people get together on these media is a net positive. It used to be that the movie critic, a lot of them, would sort of have an honorary position. Someone would have done their time in metro [news], they really love movies, and it was a pretty sweet gig, right? You got to go to movies once or twice a week. Someone was a good writer, maybe they’d been on the arts desk for awhile, and they had a general knowledge of aesthetics and film. And then they became the film critic for that, let’s call it state. This is not an ideal system, this is not a meritocracy. Is this man the most knowledgeable cineast in the Dayton metro area? Maybe he’s up there in the top 20, but probably not. There’s probably someone, some grad student, some lawyer, some kid, who is a film freak, and actually can intelligently compare a movie to The Seventh Seal, instead of just tossing off random Swedish film references without really understanding what it means.
So the Internet comes along, and suddenly there’s a free platform for that kid, for that whoever it is, for that lawyer with a sideline interest. Well, naturally, people were like, “Hey, this kid’s reviews are a lot better than that guy’s reviews!” and so readers – and this is the idea writ small – aggregate this experience across every section of the newspaper, across every domain that the newspaper covers. And we can begin to see, above and beyond Craigslist, which sort of destroys the revenue model for newspapers, it’s this flowering of alternatives that starts to erode the editorial model for a newspaper. So, we had two things, in newspapers. The monopoly on advertising space. You’re a local advertiser, you want the local newspaper. And we had a monopoly on, it was really the only way to reach an aggregated audience of your community. So both of those monopolies go away in conjunction.
Is everyone working for free?
What is commonly called “citizen journalism,” to a lot of people’s regret – I’m not sure anyone in journalism was actually happy with that term – is additive. It’s not, or rarely, a substitute. You can get into the financial woes that journalism is facing, but it’s like I said before, that’s separate from the editorial woes. One affects the other, no question, to the extent that professional journalists are still able to secure enough revenue to continue writing, they are using citizen journalism in their reporting. They’re using their network on Twitter to identify sources and collect quotes. The fact they have a network on Twitter aids and abets their journalism practice. It doesn’t replace it. The fact that the newspaper can no longer make enough money to sustain a newsroom because they’ve lost their monopoly on advertising, well that’s something else. That’s a huge problem, and what will replace that? No one knows, including me.
- The internet provided a platform for non-journalists to publish stories
- Citizen journalism eroded the revenue model for newspapers – newspapers no longer had a monopoly on advertisers or community audiences
- Social media and blogs can be a tool for journalism, but they are not a replacement for journalism
- The future of newspapers remains uncertain
Follow Jeff on Twitter @crowdsourcing.