Can the “crowd” help inform journalists and their coverage? That was the question posed by NYU’s Jay Rosen, who took the stage tonight with Quartz’s Kevin Delaney and Gideon Lichfield to present his and his students’ ideas regarding “designs for a networked beat.”
“We’re a small organization. We’re not going to have fixed beats because they are suited to an old way of journalism and the old way of doing those things… [obsessions] are effectively going to function as their beats,” Lichfield said. So instead of having an environmental desk, for example, Quartz might start “obsessing” over global warming or the changing energy business.
These obsessions are meant to allow Quartz to quickly cover and adapt to changing circumstances — the site recently started obsessing about Bitcoin, for instance — and to hear Delaney and Lichfield tell it produce something better than traditional media companies.
“When you’re dealing with beats on that kind of time scale, you need to be able to get to an advanced level of reporting much faster,” Lichfield said. “Working on a networked beat, and being able to tap into that audience, is something that should ideally help you to get there.”
Enter Rosen and Studio 20, a class at NYU’s journalism school that tries to solve problems existing media companies face. (Disclosure: Studio 20 and PandoDaily have partnered to work on a new tool that will be revealed in the future.) Rosen tasked his students with solving Quartz’s problem by taking advantage of social media and the site’s audience.
The result, as Rosen outlines on his blog, is a series of steps meant to inform journalists and media companies of how they might take advantage of “the crowd” or “influencers” or whichever buzzword seems most appropriate for non-journalist contributors and sources at the moment. Rosen actually argues that the actual crowd-sourcing itself is the very last step media organizations should implement, saying that it’s more important to discover sources, filter their contributions, and really know “the crowd” before accepting their contributions.
“This is not a science,” Rosen said. “This is an improvisational art.” He was referring to Studio 20 and its efforts to help solve some of the problems facing media companies, but the sentiment applies just as well to crowd-sourcing and its role in journalism; though Rosen and his students can try to explain how the turbulent sea of people and information will fit into modern journalism, they can’t just write a how-to and suddenly change media.
Crowd-sourcing is not a science. It is not, despite recent efforts from Forbes and BuzzFeed that literally turn the sites’ audiences into contributors, a simple tool media organizations can install or sign up for and suddenly be one with the crowd. Crowd-sourcing is… well, despite everything, it’s not quite clear what crowd-sourcing will mean for journalism.
If you think you know, feel free to tell us in the comments.*
*This is not an actual request, and is instead an attempt to be ironical. Unless you actually want to comment. Then go for it. This is your rodeo.