Monday, July 09, 2007

Open-Sourcing / Crowdsourcing Journalism: Why that's a stupid idea

Referring to the article, "Open-Source Journalism: It's a Lot Tougher Than You Think". I joined Assignment Zero, and read the laments of Open-Source Journalism.

I'm an INTJ, so it is in my nature to identify problems in a system.

The problem with Crowdsourcing or Open-Sourcing Journalism (I use the terms interchangeably here, and some do not - one is member based, you're a member before the story starts, the other can imply wikis) is this:

  • The article states that Crowdsourcing can be a way of watchdogging local politicians and interests that the media at large is reticent to investigate. I see two problems with this.
    1. There is the issue of "people not getting paid" for what they do. A select few will doggedly pursue the hobby, others will dabble in it and most will try and give up. I work in an Elections Office, I've seen a number of parties try to deal with "volunteers" who did volunteer, are in the same party, but obviously don't care to do real work. Hence why we pay our Poll-Workers - it's not much, but it takes "volunteer" out of the equation. The human mind just works differently when it's paid. The article mentions this problem, but obviously can't go into great detail.
    2. Foremost, lets assume Crowdsouring worked. Lets assume 30% of USA cities had some kind of cohesive group that "watchdogged" their local government (good) and special interests (also good). This would continue to be good anytime there was a scandal, nepotism or something juicy, but how well would it work the 20th time some city said some developer was stonewalling them? In other words: There's a reason the current news that floats to the top is the current news that floats to the top. Humans don't want news they have to do anything about - they want news they can see and digest and feel secure in.
To expand upon this insight, first given to me by my friend Dove, take child abductions: Horrible! Horrendous! We feel for the parents! We hate the child murderers and rapists! But we don't have to do anything. We probably feel we keep our kids safe. We don't feel negligent (and if we should, have excuses built up already).

Now take this: On the local news - Colorado Rock Company is building a plant not to EPA specifications and stonewalling everyone. Their pollution will affect where you live and studies have shown it causes cancer, but it's inconclusive enough to sue anyone. People don't like that kind of news, but paradoxically, it's the kind of news that matters to them most.

So Crowdsourcing is a wonderful ideal - but will enough people write about it for it to become valid? Wikiality's Magic 8-Ball says "Yes." Will people care, once it becomes mainstream? Human Nature says "Not likely."

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