Yesterday’s news that Topix will now handle the forums and article commenting system for MediaNews Group raises some questions for the future of user-generated content on news sites.
Does the future of so-called citizen journalism and user-generated content on news sites lie in opinion/comment rather than reporting?
MediaNews’ decision seems to suggest so, investing in areas of their sites where users react or debate content rather than submitting their own.
Writing for the Future of News blog, Steve Boriss takes this one step further saying: ‘Citizen journalism is dead. Expert journalism is the future‘. To summarise, Boriss argues that citizens (and to some extent professinal journalists) should not be reporters or newsgatherers for online but act as ‘topic experts':
The model that will work — that will make news better, not worse — is one that combines the talents of topic experts throughout the web with those who have a knack for aggregating and editing their material to satisfy an audience.
Quality content, whether it’s from citizens or journalists, properly targeted by editors with the ability to ‘energize their audience’. To be avoided: allowing a free-for-all in terms of the quality of user-generated content in a bid to show users that their contributions are desired.
Allowing citizen journalists and users to submit news reports can be invaluable – the first pictures of a fire, a natural disaster, riots in Paris. But, as Steve Outing suggests in his article analysing the failure of his own grassroots citizen journalism project, the way in which news sites publish this content needs changing.
Too often, says Outing, these images and films are segregated in a separate area of the site away from professional coverage of the event. A better idea, says Outing, is to use editors to select the best submissions and mix these with the professional coverage – again supporting Boriss’ model of experts and expert editors.