LASICS .::. Open Conference Systems, IAMCR 2010: Communication and Citizenship

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Collective intelligence or collective stupidity? The role of crowdsourcing in contemporary journalism.

Agnieszka Zwiefka-Chwalek

Last modified: 2010-06-03


Crowdsourcing is often referred to as “pro-am journalism” – a compilation of professional and amateur content. It has become popular due to the economic crisis that mainstream media suffer today. Crowdsourcing differs from traditional reporting in that the information collected is gathered not manually, by a reporter, but through some automated agent, such as a website. The core concept is not new in journalism. The journalists have always asked people for their opinion, treated them as sources of information, stringers. Now, new media give them an opportunity to do this in more standardized and faster way and on a wider scale. In this article I'll follow up crowdsourcing initiatives in European television stations and analyse under what conditions the crowd factor becomes a valuable element of content productions. “No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity” – these words by Pierre Levy, describing the phenomenon of collective intelligence, led many journalists to evolve an idea first noticed and introduced by computer programmers and developed in the form of open source programming. If every person has a peculiar, unrepeatable knowledge (either scientific, or deriving from his everyday life experience) and we add it to the knowledge of other people we can create a truly panoramic picture of the reality. New media have changed what counts as knowledge. “Expert” no longer means what it used to. Crowdsourcing has triggered a dramatic shift in the way work is organized, research is conducted and products are made and marketed and has challenged the status of a journalist – transforming the gatekeepers into moderators or, as Axel Bruns calls them, gatewatchers. But is the crowd input always valuable, reliable and credible? Often enough we meet user generated content that can very easily be called "user generated crap". In order for crowdsourcing to deliver collective intelligence we need some unique requirements: 1. Crowd Must Be Diverse. Crowdsourcing requires a mix of people who aren’t too much alike. Breakthrough solutions more often come from a diverse enough set of minds who approach the question from different angles. 2. Crowd Must Be Dispersed. The core idea of crowdsourcing is its global reach and non-centralised character. All work is done remotely and there is little or no hierarchy. 3. Crowd Must Be Qualified. Qualifying a crowd is about finding people with an interest in the subject, with the technical skill to provide the answer. The principle behind crowdsourcing is that the users are more clever, specialized and knowledgeable than most of journalists. 4. Crowd Must Be Right Size. The more people join the content creation process, the more diverse ideas come to the picture. User generated content without users doesn’t make sense. A lot of mainstream media outlets argue that the main reason for them to practice crowdsourcing is not the possibility of obtaining cheap information, but most of all the act of engaging their viewers, listeners and readers in dialogue, creating a sense of community belonging. Even without any reliable and creative input the crowd is valuable for the mainstream media - participating crowd is a loyal crowd.

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