In the wake of the horrific bombing at the Boston marathon, there has been an interesting side debate between those who believe in crowdsourced journalism and those who do not. I firmly am in the camp of the former. I believe that the more eyes and people that you have involved in the process, the more effective that process is going to be. Matthew Ingram wrote a great piece on PaidContent entitled: Reddit + Boston: Journalism gets better when more people are doing it. I highly recommend checking it out.
Are there errors committed when processes are crowdsourced? Of course. We are, in the end, human. But there are errors everywhere, including traditional media. Twitter has long been the place to go for breaking news, but while it has been praised for quickness, it has been equally criticized for validity. That is when you heard the clamoring to go to traditional media once you heard about it on Twitter so that you could get your facts straight. This idea seems laughable after CNN repeatedly published inaccurate information, all the while slower than Twitter and Reddit.
Ingram makes an important point in his article, this is not an either/or question, as both are necessary. We need collaboration between everybody and the more people that can be involved, the better. What is not helping is the name-calling from both sides. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal equated Reddit’s crowdsourcing with vigilantism, in the article: Hey Reddit, Enough Boston Bombing Vigilantism. That is a ridiculous assertion. The public was not donning Batman suits and attempting to arrest or kill the suspects, just to identify who the suspects are. There were plenty of photos and videos of the location of the bomb, so why not invite millions to analyze? The more people there are, the more critical analysis can be put forth. Crowdsourcing fact checks itself and can be counted on to do so. The problems arise, when ideas or rumors are thrown out and are taken immediately as facts. We need to realize that unconfirmed data is just a part of the process and without throwing it out there, how do we know if it’s true or not?
Twitter has shown us, once again, that it is the place to be for breaking news. It remains unparalleled at how fast information and data can spread to millions of people. Reddit has shown that millions of passionate users can help in the journalism process. Neither has shown 100% reliability, but that’s an unreasonable expectation. Even the most stalwart supporters of crowdsourcing like me have considered mainstream media to be, while slower, full of more accurate information as a whole. However, this last week may have signaled a shift. CNN was embarrassed by putting out unconfirmed information and I feel that it will have a significant impact on its future as a breaking news platform. Not just for CNN, but all forms of traditional media. We are entering a new world and rather than name call, why don’t we look at the value these new services can provide? Crowdsourced journalism will endure and will likely improve dramatically as it matures, so why not embrace it?