Journalism Crowdsourcing Out of the Newsroom

Some news organizations are seeing the benefit of situating crowdsourcing outside of the newsroom and directly within communities. Its ability to flourish external to the newsroom stems from two factors: shifts in web tools and culture.

The same online tools that enable news organizations to readily interact with their audiences have made it easier for those audiences to connect and self-organize with others.

Meanwhile, culturally, journalism has become more collaborative. “There was a massive change from 2009 and 2012 in terms of the amount of people and groups of people who were asking public interest questions and had spaces to be able to do that,” said freelance journalist Paul Bradshaw. This turn toward collaboration paved the way for Help Me Investigate, Bradshaw’s own crowdsourced journalism website.19 The site was created with the goal of providing a platform for citizens and journalists to work together to investigate questions in the service of the public good. It took on hundreds of issues.

Though Help Me Investigate shut down in 2014, Bradshaw is convinced that what made the website so noteworthy was the very fact that its work was deliberately independent of a newsroom. “You might not need a news organization. People are organizing on their own,” he said.

In Europe, a group of journalists has been experimenting with innovative ways of collaborating and using crowdsourced data to produce stories that would otherwise be left untold. In 2014, five southern European journalists, led by data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani, banded together to create Generation E.

Generation E fills in the blanks about the generation of young Europeans who leave the southern half of the continent and migrate to other European countries. To collaborate across countries, the team sought partnerships with large newspapers in its members’ home countries of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. When the three-month project ended, over 2,400 young European migrants had participated. The project successfully showed the limitations of European governmental data and challenged stereotypes surrounding reasons for southern European migration.20

Each of these cases shows that crowdsourcing can work both inside and outside of news organizations.

For this reason, we find it not just useful but necessary to examine more deeply the different forms that crowdsourcing takes. Because so many diverse practices are qualified as crowdsourcing, categorization grants us the ability to differentiate between these practices and highlight the specific characteristics unique to each. From a research perspective, this permits a better understanding of crowdsourcing as a whole; from a practitioner’s perspective, it facilitates better understanding of how best to design successful initiatives.

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