Jeff Howe Talks About Crowdsourcing and Journalism

Jeff Howe speaking at an event.

Jeff Howe was our guest speaker in my journalism class on Friday, speaking about, amongst other things, crowdsourcing. Howe is the newest faculty member to the School of Journalism, a former Nieman Fellow and author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business.

Crowdsourcing, a term Howe coined back around 2006, is the idea that ordinary people, who were once confined to their chosen careers, are changing the face of business and the news by using the internet to expand their talents.

For example, a lawyer who’s a good writer and who has a passion for movies can now go home from his regular job and write movie reviews that he publishes on his blog. This legitimate film criticism might start to give paid newspaper film critics a run for their money.

Is that a good or a bad thing?

In a YouTube video he showed us about the subject, Howe goes into more depth about the idea of crowdsourcing, saying that it’s “giving it to the people,” where “it” can be anything from the t-shirt business to journalism.

In the video, Howe goes on to say, “crowdsourcing doesn’t eradicate the business, it changes it.”

After showing the video, Howe engaged the class in a discussion about the pros and cons of crowdsourcing as it pertains to journalism. The pros, he said, were that it can be an effective newsgathering tool, a good way to disperse art and media, helpful to article writing and distribution.

Distribution, Howe told us, basically meant self-promotion. The thing that journalists once shunned as something taboo, he said, was the best way to get your work out in the open today.

Using Twitter as both a way to promote your work is important, but it’s also important to use Twitter as a way to stay updated on the news. Following reporters, instead of news organizations, can be a “window into the newsroom, into journalists’ minds before the story is published.”

So what are the downsides of crowdsourcing, or “citizen journalism”? In general, the biggest drawback is that it can be a big threat to journalism and reporting. Though Howe gave us great examples of how citizen journalism can help media outlets outside of the mainstream by helping find and research a story, ultimately citizen journalism “puts a crunch on an already strapped industry.”

Yet ultimately, is crowdsourcing good or bad for journalism? Howe left it up to us to decide where we stand on the idea. I, for one, had never thought of the debate in this way, and will definitely be giving the phenomenon a lot of thought when analyzing the news from now on.

Photo (cc) by Ernst-Jan Pfauth under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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