Best exemplified by CNN.com's iReport, citizen journalists are being given a chance to report on equal footing with the mainstream media. While iReport gives these would-be reporters a place to piggyback on a major brand, many others have taken to their own blogs, social networks or Twitter to report live, and unlike the traditional approach where media authors would issue a story and call it a day, the life of a story now often starts when it hits the Web, spawning comments, shares and retweets. But as citizen journalists and bloggers are given the same capability to gain visibility, mainstream media's much-celebrated structure to put articles and stories through the vetting process sometimes falls astray in the race to get the story out quickly.
CNN's iReport Has "Vetted" about 5% of all Submissions Today
All time, about 7% of all Submissions are "Vetted".
A little over two years ago, I highlighted how quickly incorrect news can spread in the age of microblogging. (See: Smart People, Stupid Tweets. Fake News Spreads Fast on Twitter.) While many of us know not to believe everything on the Web, even if it is in Wikipedia, there remains a need to separate fact from fiction. With so many publications out there reporting on the same information at the same time, without having additional insight, the task of curating the very best of the analysis and repeaters can become a very serious task.
In January, I broached this issue, asking, "Can You Filter for Quality News Amidst Instant Analysis?" and earlier still, in December, highlighting how some news organizations are in fact incentivized for behavior which may lead away from taking the extra effort sometimes required to get the story right. (See: Growing Grumblings on Tech News Don't Address Incentives)
As excited and promotional as I am about the ability for anyone to create and share content, I am equally worried that incentives to promote the discovery of accuracy are not clearly defined, and it is often very difficult to find a real authority on a given topic in a world of instant analysis. When a story breaks in a real-time platform, like Twitter, the person who first reported the earthquake, or was present on the scene of an event, is only an expert for a short time, and when that topic has faded, new influencers for new stories are needed. This leads to a need for trusted sources to harness the truth from the originator of news, wherever it may be, mass media or citizen journalism, and rapidly verify accuracy.
But the sheer volume of feedback can overwhelm even the most well-intended. CNN.com reported one recent popular article achieved more than 30,000 comments - a practical impossibility to moderate by humans, leading to the desire to somehow separate the wheat from the chaff and surface the most accurate and supported insight. As one knows, trusting the community is possible, but usually results in an across the board maligning of those who share opposing views. See any political blog or sports blog for this particular variety of trench warfare. See any comment stream on Yahoo! News or on YouTube to see the quality of the masses at work.
The answer lies in finding a way to reward the truth-seekers in the real-time Web, and to reward media, be they an established brand or an emerging one, for discovering accurate insights, or simply harnessing them. The world of real-time storytelling is evolving before our eyes, and in some cases, its sheer ephemeral nature promises to introduce as many issues as it solves. We, as readers, creators and sharers, should be working diligently to keep our streams clean and provide value to all those who come in contact with our content.
For more thoughts, see Echo's essay: Real-time Storytelling