Here at SXSW, we attended the session "CrowdControl: Changing the Face of Media or Hype?" At the end, one of the speakers asked the crowd, which they thought it was. Almost everybody responded with the former, while maybe one or two raised their hand for hype.
I think it's pretty clear that citizen journalism, the real topic of this discussion, is changing and has already changed the face of media. There are varying opinions on if that is for better or for worse, but the very fact that these opinions are able to be voiced is a testament to the stength of the crowd.
On the panel were Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Randi Zuckerberg from Facebook, Lila King from CNN.com, Jason Rzepka from MTV, and Joseph Kingsbury of Text100 Public relations.
Much of the conversation was centered around trust. Who can you trust? How do you know you can trust them? How do you know these citizen reporters don't have an agenda? Things of this nature.
Cashmore says brand still plays a role in trust, and that you should have some level of skepticism when a story comes from something like Twitter (assuming you are unfamiliar with the source). His point is accentuated by the fact that here at at SXSW, a massive Twitter hoax regarding Conan O'Brien was perpetrated from Digg's SXSW party the other night.
"People need to become more educated consumers of news" and "learn what you can trust and what you can't," says Cashmore. That is probably easier said than done, and possibly asking a lot of the average person that doesn't reside inside the news industry, but he's right. If people don't want to be misled or misinformed, they need to not only consider the source, but acknowledge multiple sources before totally abandoning the grain of salt.
This actually reminds me of something Andrew Lih said in another session I attended this past weekend about Wikipedia. His advice to journalists (as well as students) was that there is "no better starting point" than Wikipedia, and "no worse ending point."
Cashmore made a point about Wikipedia in that it is controlled by a few people, so it's not exactly the crowd like Twitter is the crowd, or like the Blogosphere is the crowd, but I think the point runs parallel. A tweet may be a great starting point for a piece of news, but it should not be the ending point in acceptance of fact.
The crowd is there for balance. The more viewpoints that are available, the more a reader is able to take away from a story. When points are debated, more info is revealed, and even if some of that doesn't sit well with you, you can use your own judgment to assess where you come down on the subject at hand. This comes back to Cashmore's statement about becoming a more educated consumer of news. Perhaps we only need to strive for a better educated public in general, and the quality of so-called citizen journalism will grow.
That should be easy.
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