Can Crowd Sourcing Work for Local News? The Power of Community

February 21, 2010

As you know, the purpose of this blog is to answer the question, “What would the local news business look like if it were invented today?” And we are asking you to contribute to this blog, to critique and to add to our ideas in order to create a new business model for local news.

I recently told a friend about this idea and he said, “What? Are you crazy?” He simply couldn’t understand why we would put our business plan on the internet for people to look at and even steal if they want to. “You need to protect your ideas,” he said, “or someone else will take them.” As far as he was concerned, opening up this blog to a crowd of people is unconventional and risky. In one way, he’s right. Developing a business model in this way is unconventional. In the past, if you had an idea for a new business, you would guard it with your life and only share it with a few close friends, and even they would be required to sign non-disclosure agreements stating that they would tell no one.

But in the information age, this will no longer be the way that ideas are generated and explored. We are now in the age of “crowd sourcing” in which tasks are accomplished not privately by individuals, but publicly by torrents of people working together simultaneously. Two stories illustrate this point:

After this last Thanksgiving holiday, my son took a flight back to his university in Florida. After getting off the plane, he was disappointed to find his keys missing as he reached his car in the parking lot. Purely out of frustration, he made a quick post to his Facebook along the lines of, “[Explitive]… at  airport. left my keys in Boston and only spare is in dorm room!” Within fifteen minutes, he had friends messaging him back who where at the same airport offering him a ride. Within half an hour, two other friends who where headed down to the airport anyway had hassled his RA into letting them get his car keys from his room to bring them to him. In the past, he might have lost two or three hours trying to figure out how to get out of the same situation, but the power of the crowd got him out in a matter of minutes.

The second story comes from a post on Mitch Joel’s blog, Six Pixels of Separation. Mitch was stranded in Times Square in New York looking for a decent meal not completely saturated with grease. He sent a quick tweet to his Twitter network asking for advice and within a few minutes he had received “multiple recommendations [and] managed to eat a lightly seared piece of fresh tuna with vegetables at Blue Fin.” Once again, the crowd was able to solve a problem with ease that would have been difficult, at best, for the individual. This inspired Mitch to write and blog about the phenomenon of “crowd sourcing.”

Just as in these two examples, we believe that the solution to the problems faced by local news will not be found by an individual sitting alone in a room. Instead, we need to tap into the wisdom of the crowd by sharing and critiquing each other’s ideas until we find a solution, like a bucket brigade working to put out a fire. Doing things the old way is like having each person grab a pale and run half a mile to the lake and back with water. Each person has different talents in differing degrees, but this system doesn’t take this into account. But when everyone works as a crowd, you can have the stronger people get into a line and ferry the full pales back from the lake, while the weaker people form a second line taking the empty pales back. People with leadership skills can work to keep the line in order and make sure no one gets exhausted, and the very strongest people can be in the front throwing the water on the fire.

With crowd sourcing, each person’s individual strengths are brought to the forefront, while their weaknesses are eclipsed. This is what we hope to accomplish with Civic Edition. While the two of us bring our business experience to the table, each of you brings a different kind of talent. Some of you are reporters currently working at local newspapers, some of you have experience with social networking, and others may have experience with community organizing. We believe that together, our combined abilities will be greater than the sum of their parts. What do you think?

Think Outside the Newsstand


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