by Timothy Lee
Mon, Mar 3rd 2008 12:53pm
The Loose Wire blog has a fascinating example of "crowdsourced" journalism in action: When the UK experienced its largest earthquake in decades, the story was covered first not by the BBC or a traditional wire service, but by a twitter-only news service called BreakingNewsOn. And that service, run by a 20-year old Dutch student named Michael van Poppel, got its leads directly from Twitter users in the UK who were surprised by the quake and made Twitter posts about it. I think this highlights some important trends in the future of journalism. First, when news happens, there are almost always some people around to observe it first-hand. So if enough of those people have ways of sharing their observations with the world -- via Twitter, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, or some other mechanism not yet developed -- then news reporting may consist largely of tracking down these various first-hand reports and synthesizing them into a story. It may not be necessary to send out a flesh-and-blood reporter to cover a story if there's already a ton of information about it on the Web. Second, the line between professional and amateur journalism is blurring, and will continue to do so. Someone we would ordinarily consider just a blogger can break news if he happens to be at the scene of a story or he happens to be the first to notice newsworthy happenings being reported elsewhere on the Internet. Finally, this story suggests one answer to the frequent hand-wringing over the decline of newspapers. It's true that some newspapers are being forced to reduce the number of reporters on the payroll. But that lost news-gathering capacity is likely to be outweighed by the vastly increased news-gathering capabilities of the Internet. If mainstream news outlets can get better at tapping these kinds of decentralized news sources, they should be able to report more news with fewer reporters.
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