Tricky Relationship Between Mainstream Media and Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism took a beating last week when a post on CNN’s iReport incorrectly reported that Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack. (The post has been removed, but Google still has a cached version.)

Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis pushes through the ensuing cit-j firestorm and redirects the conversation:

It may be a mistake for news organizations to keep begging people to send them stuff. That’s the way they think — centralized, controlling, exclusive. But the better structure may be for journalists to curate the best of what is out on the web. Rather than playing wack-a-mole on the occasional mistake/rumor/lie sent it, editors would better serve if they found the best content anywhere, not just among that which was sent to them.

The core issue here isn’t whether citizen journalism works; it’s whether it works in association with mainstream media (MSM). CNN goes out of its way to explain its connection to iReport — with an exclamation point — but rational explanations can’t disentangle CNN’s name from iReport’s posts. The association is implied.

This is why Jarvis’ suggestion makes sense. If MSM editors aggregate and filter posts from across the Web — including third-party citizen journalism hubs — there’ll be no need for carefully-worded explanations of association. The New York Times is already employing a similar strategy in its technology section, and the Washington Post is aggregating political news/commentary in its Political Browser.

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