Crowdsourcing, a new era for journalism?

The case I chose to study is “The Brian Lehrer Show”, under the subtitle of “Wisdom of Crowds in General-interest Reporting by Recruiting a General Audience”. Through reading Muthukumaraswamy’s article, I started to gain an understanding of how media incorporate crowdsourcing into their practice. The author examined five methods of crowdsourcing employed by media. To be honest, I don’t think this is the best way to generalize crowdsourcing. For me, only two of the subtitles make sense: ”General-interest Reporting by Recruiting a General Audience” and “Specialized Reporting by Recruiting an Expert audience”. In other cases, I don’t think there is a need to differentiate expert audience from general audience. For instance, Muthukumarasamy listed TPM and The Huffington post as examples to show how media recruit an expert audience in general-interest reporting. I think for TPM and The Huffington Post, the “experts” are just common subscribers, people who are interested in political issues. Unlike the Beatblogging case, the media are not aimed at picking out experts to help them deal with specialized problems. As for “the Brian Lehrer Show” case, I think it’s a good example to demonstrate how media recruited its audience for general-interest reporting. For one thing, the recruiting is not limited to WNYC listeners. I’ve seen the recruiting message on various webpages, personal or public. For another, the project is closely related to people’s day-to-day lives. The total number of cars parking in the neighborhood and that of SUVs is an indication of the percentage of SUVs owned by New York citizens. I generalize three themes from my case study.

Audiences’ motivation

I think the most important thing for a crowdsourcing project to work is audiences’ motivation. The more people participate, the better result it can get. The first link I found useful is an interview with Jim Colgan, the producer of the Brian Lehrer show. He thoroughly explained his motive of conducting such project and what can be learned from this practice. As said by Colgan, “the investigation lasted only a week but received 450 comments, far above the average call-in segment”. Colgan specifically pointed out his surprise when he found out “the level to which people really want to take part. They want to be part of the news.” Being able to Perform a journalistic investigation, even as simple as counting the number of cars becomes the motivation for some of the audiences. For those who don’t like SUVs, being able to expose the problem becomes their strongest motivation, Lehrer also mentioned this during his show.


As Muthukumaraswamy noticed, “the obvious disadvantage in such an exercice is the unreliability of the news obtained.” I browsed the audiences’ responses and came up with several findings. One, some people posted more than once. Two, some locations the audiences reported are overlapped. Three, there are confusions about what is a SUV. It created many problems for the producers when analyzing the data. There are only 405 valid responses out of the 450, Colgan mentions it during results sharing with the audiences. Another problem is there is no fact checking strategies. Just as one of the listeners pointed out when talking about citizen photo reporting, “How much we can trust people who are not photo journalist to do the reporting? What if someone dodge something?” The second link I found useful is an article examines crowdsourcing through this case. As noticed by the author, “because participants tend to be self-selecting, the producer can’t assume they amount to a representative sample and sometimes must actively seek out underrepresented voices.” He points out one of the most obvious disadvantage of crowdsourcing: the crowd in crowdsourcing is not picked out by producers, so they are not representative samples. Hense, the author offers suggestions for future projects. “Start small”, “Be relevant”, “Be specific” and “Verify”. Crowdsourcing may have some reliability issues, but the idea is still fascinating. As I was listening to Brain’s show, one of the listeners brought out the essence of crowdsourcing, “no one person could ever have an absolute, comprehensive insight into  the way things worked, so we have to refer to plurality of actors.” It’s also the central idea of democratic deliberation.

Journalists’ responsibility

The last theme I generated is journalists’ responsibility. Every crowdsourcing project can’t operate without “real” journalists’ organization. Just as Jeff Howe described in his blog, “I think the crowd make excellent sources and additional sets of eyes and ears, but I believe the future lies in carefully cultivated partnerships between professionals and their audiences.” I found his blog extremely useful for people trying to comprehend the term crowdsourcing. He listed many case studies and his understandings of the relationship between crowdsourcing and journalism. Without the careful planning and organizing of Ushahidi and Okolloh, the crowdsourcing project wouldn’t be as successful. Back to the Brian Lehrer’s show case, Howe brought out the idea of incorporating Google map with SUV data during the show. It’s a brilliant idea and a perfect example of the map mashup talked in another article this week. My point is, data will always be data if journalists don’t jump in and present it into readable forms.



About tinamomo

I am a simple person who enjoys simple things~
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Crowdsourcing, a new era for journalism?

  1. luckymaggie says:

    I think you mention a very important point: audience’s motivation is the primary concern in crowdsourcing project. When I found sources for the commonplace blog post, one perspective was very impressive: if people think their voice actually matters, they’ll do the hard work. Actually I prefer the projects on the prices about milk and beer all over Manhattan. I think these two are at a more close distance to people’s daily lives. Listeners are more easily to be motivated and then contribute to the results. So how to make the listeners feel being highly involved is the concern here.

  2. Sadie says:

    Your statement of “I think for TPM and The Huffington Post, the “experts” are just common subscribers, people who are interested in political issues” is an interesting one to me. I think that if people are interested in the topics that these publications focus on, this makes them somewhat of an “expert” already because they have an interest in that specialization. Does that make sense? And I think that the whims of the publications’ readers affects what information and suggestions that they solicit, which becomes a form of “specialized” crowdsourcing, and isn’t necessarily done for the sake of crowdsourcing, but for sales and readership boosts.

  3. Sijia says:

    I think the two points- audiences’ motivation and journalists’ responsibility- you’ ve made are related. I wonder what is the motivation for people to devote time and energy into some work without getting any rewards. I’m not saying we only do things for retures. But I do believe people need at least one good reason to keep doing a certain thing. And I guess it relies on the organizors (or the journalists, in your word) to create or explain such reason to the crowd.

  4. Pingback: Week 11: Just comments « SJ Blogging

  5. ltn0913 says:

    It’s true and I agree with you that “in other cases, I don’t think there is a need to differentiate expert audience from general audience”. But the case I chose “News-Press utilities rates” under the subtitle “Wisdom of Crowds in General-interest Reporting by Recruiting Generalists and Experts”, I think it separated “generalists” and “experts” just to be more specific. Experts are generalist with some certain skills. I the case they did something they are adept at that other generalists couldn’t do, all of them worked together and solved the problem effectively.

  6. fanninchen says:

    I also have doubt in the reliability of the “The Brian Lehrer Show”- SUV project. I agree with you that the problem of it is that they don’t have a checking strategy. However, it reminds me about the “social trust” topic we discussed few weeks ago. I believe that social trust is not only related to “online shopping behavior” but to the overall internet information trust. On the other hand, if we did have the checking system for all the corwdsourcing event(project), it will cost too much labor and efforts, and it will disobey the spirit of crowdsourcing. Because under some circumstances, the reason why we need crowdsourcing is to gather a lot of information in a short time right?

  7. clocke22 says:

    When you discuss how more people participating can result in better results, I think this helps draw an analogy between crowdsourcing and open systems. Both rely on the assumption that the more minds you have working towards a particular goal or task, the better the result. And both have similar counter-arguments: the individual’s gain is sacrificed in open systems and the journalism profession as it is can be sacrificed with crowdsourcing (or so some would argue).

  8. Pingback: Blog Post 11: Comments « Digital Democracy

  9. joneelauriel says:

    “I think the most important thing for a crowdsourcing project to work is audiences’ motivation.” — I think this statement is the most important part of your argument about crowdsourcing and it was a big part of our discussion in class, what motivates people to do research and write these articles for little to no money? I think in the case of the utility increase it’s because people had a stake in it. So, I think if people are motivated are directly affected by an issue then they will become a more credible source. Crowdsouring is in it’s earlier stages so I think as the roles between the audience and journalist are more clearly defined it will become a new trend in journalism.

  10. Carol says:

    I agree with you that the journalist need to be careful and well-planned when using crowdsourcing; crowds make a great source for information, but how should the journalist make good use of it? What kind of issue is suitable for crowdsourcing? What data is valuable? What are the things we should be careful with when getting the information from the crowd? In what way should we present the information from crowdsourcing to the audience? I think you really made a point by indicating that “ data will always be data if journalists don’t jump in and present it into readable forms.”

  11. chentingchen says:

    I agree with your point about “the experts” in other cases mentioned by Muthukumaraswamy. I cannot tell the difference between those experts and general audience in TPM case.
    I also agree that audiences’ motivation is important in crowdsourcing. However, the reliability problem you mentioned may be raised if crowdsourcing only depends on audiences’ motivation. Just like you said, “data will always be data if journalists don’t jump in and present it into readable forms.” Journalists as gatekeepers verify the data may be necessary.

  12. I agree that the differentiation between expert and lay audiences might not be necessary to make, and may in fact be faulty. Is it crowdsourcing if you divide up the crowd? Does an expert audience still function as the general public, and should they be held above more lay audience members? But as you say, and I wrote about too, it comes down to audience motivation, and depending on the focus of the topic at hand, it’s going to attract particular people, which may or may not be repesentative of the general public and will certainly affect what kind of responses they offer. How the journalists market the crowdsourcing call is important too, and I think for the data to be representative, the process and the resulting article needs to be very transparent about the particular crowd and their motivations and how that affects the data.

  13. I like that you brought up the unreliability of crowdsourcing responses. The fact that the people are reporting more than once, and that their areas overlap could pose a real problem for the validity of the data, not to mention the core problem of your contributors not knowing what an SUV is. I do believe, however, that one of the key advantages of crowdsourcing is that the sheer volume of responses starts to negate some of that inaccuracies. There were still 405 good cases out of 450. Also, double reporting on one block, or area overlap is not necessarily a problem since the quantity of SUV’s on the block can change throughout the day, thus for an area you can average the different counts.

  14. Wendy Brunner says:

    I love the way you laid out your post, by the way. It was a smooth, easy read. I did the Brian Lehrer Show project too, and in my blog post–which I accidentally failed to post, so I’ll bring this up again here–what immediately jumped into my mind was the way broadcast journalists so readily (and nauseatingly frequently) use what we call “MOS” interviews in our stories. It stands for Man On Street, and it’s where you see a five-second sound bite from some passerby saying they liked the movie, the tornado sounded like a train, or they drive an SUV…whatever the story happens to be about. This is crowdsourcing on a micro scale, but roughly the same… the primary difference is that the journalist is pooling from sources that happen to be nearby (geographically) at the time they’re doing their story as opposed to soliciting help from viewers/readers, etc. Being what I like to call a “recovering television reporter” myself, I can attest to how often reporters conduct just enough MOS interviews to find the sound bites that work best for the story they’ve already planned out ahead of time. Is that ethical? I certainly think not, and I balked about it for years. But it’s the way “real” reporting is done out on the street. So how significantly different is this from crowdsourcing? I think it depends enormously on the significance of the information you’re soliciting, and more importantly on the vetting process undertaken by the journalist crafting the story. It could well be playing with fire if left unchecked.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s