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Crowdsourcing: Lending your voice to the vocal village

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(This is the fifth of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

The next task on the summer to-do list for journalism students involves journalism’s take on the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Task #5: Become a part of a crowdsourcing project.

Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, first used the term “crowdsourcing” in a 1996 Wired article. He defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

For the sake of this exercise, I needed clarification on the difference between crowdsourcing and citizen journalism.  Online Journalism Review’s post A Journalist’s Guide to Crowdsourcing provided this distinction:

Unlike more traditional notions of “citizen journalism,” crowdsourcing does not ask readers to become anything more than what they’ve always been: eyewitnesses to their daily lives. They need not learn advanced reporting skills, journalism ethics or how to be a better writer. It doesn’t ask readers to commit hours of their lives in work for a publisher with little or no financial compensation. Nor does it allow any one reader’s work to stand on its own, without the context of many additional points of view.

According to this definition, I’ve participated in a few crowdsourced efforts this summer:

  • After experiencing the earthquake in San Diego in June, I went to Did You Feel It?, the U.S. Geological Survey’s effort “to tap the abundant information available about earthquakes from the people who actually experience them.”
  • I responded to a tweet sent by WJChat co-founder Robert Hernandez asking for replies to the question “Why am I a journalist?

  • Following a Facebook post by TIME magazine, I contributed to the “I Want To Be in TIME” group to give TIME permission to use my profile picture for a cover story on Facebook. (No, I haven’t located my photo):

How can you find out about crowdsourced projects and have your voice heard?

  1. Follow local media on Twitter and Facebook. On any given day, reporters are using Twitter and Facebook to connect with their audiences to solicit story ideas, eyewitness accounts and other input for stories.
  2. Create a column in TweetDeck for crowdsourcing. Use “crowdsourcing”, “crowdsourced” and the hashtag #crowdsourcing and look for hashtags that identify specific projects. Be aware that you’ll see efforts for everything from peer-produced software development to branding and design competitions, so you’ll want to focus your attention on public projects that invite information gathering, eyewitness accounts (written or photographic) and investigative journalism.
  3. Check blogs involved in crowdsourcing to find out about projects. Last spring, Crowdsourcing engaged in a worldwide crowdsourced book club experiment called “One Book, One Twitter” (#1b1t). Ushahidi focused its international humanitarian crowdsourced efforts in Haiti, while many local news organizations’ community and niche blogs featured appeals to their audiences for contributions to projects. For example, The New York Times’ Lens blog initiated “A Moment in Time“, an interactive photo gallery created from crowdsourced images taken around the world at the same time.
  4. Keep an eye out for crowdsourced investigative projects. Several sites have emerged in the U.K. and Canada, including the recent launch of Help Me Investigate. Watch for similar U.S.-based journalism projects aiming to harness the public’s curiosity.
  5. Speak up. Don’t be shy; the power of the crowdsourced village comes from each contributing voice. If you witness a newsworthy event, contribute to news organizations’ crowdsourced coverage by documenting it in writing or with video, audio or photos.


Next up: Task #6: Improve at least 5 Wikipedia entries. (My son has been asking to improve the “New South Wales” article; maybe I’ll need to crowdsource this task to my family…)