Friday, May 10, 2013

A Little Oversight Goes a Long Way

Citizen Journalism: not always a great idea

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 12:21 PM

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The internet: A glorious place where everyone is connected to everyone and anyone can say anything. Arguably the best expression of freedom of speech the world has ever known. But with freedom comes a lot of free nonsense.

Take some of the local blog posts on Patch.com.

For those who aren't familiar with Patch, it is a collection of hyperlocal websites all over the United States owned by AOL. Each individual site covers roughly one town and has one editor managing the content for that site. At its core, it is a news site like any other.

According to Patch:

Simply put, Patch is an innovative way to find out about, and participate in, what's going on near you.
We're a community-specific news, information and engagement platform driven by passionate and experienced new media professionals. Patch is revolutionizing the way neighbors connect with each other, their communities, and the national conversation.
We want to be the most trusted, comprehensive, and relevant news and information resource in your community. What can you do on Patch?

But the better question would be: "What can't you do on Patch?"

Take Patch blogger Cathy Gumina Odom. Her post on Healdsburg Patch's site: I'm Stoned When I Can't Connect My Bluetooth Keyboard is a fabulous example of Patch being the “most trusted, comprehensive, and relevant news and information resource” around.

Or... not. It is, however, a great example of what can happen on a news site with little to no editorial control. Really, read the thing. It's utterly bonkers.

Now just because there's one crazy blogger out there doesn't mean everyone who blogs for Patch is a stoned lunatic. But oftentimes there's no vetting process for what goes up and what doesn't go up. This is true for many sites; Patch is just a great example.

The editors of these sites are responsible for getting a certain number of posts up a day (as per their contract) and may not have time to worry about what is or isn't being covered by freelancers and bloggers. While this may not seem like a big deal, the fact that Patch is branding itself as a relevant news source makes it kind of a big deal.

(To be fair, many if not most of the editors who work for Patch are qualified journalists. Take Petaluma Patch editor Karina Ioffee, who went to UC Santa Cruz and studied at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. She worked for the Arizona Daily Star, the Stockton Record and two of the world’s largest wire services, the Associated Press, and Reuters.)

Not everyone who writes on the web needs to have a graduate degree in journalism. There are tons of blogs out there on relevant topics being written by all sorts of people. Food blogs, music blogs, gardening blogs, parenting blogs...the list goes on and on.

But for a site whose founders claim to want it to be trusted, and claim to present relevant news, and then let anyone at all write for it unedited (and, might I add, not get paid)—to me, it seems a little odd, and takes that old citizen-journalism idea a little too far.

Once again, it's up to the consumer to filter out the garbage to get to the gold.

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