Saturday, June 26, 2010

From Convergence, to Citizen Journalism and Beyond...

Considering the rapid growth and widespread adoption of digital media like YouTube, Facebook and the blogosphere, combined with their potential for citizen journalism, it was only a matter of time before some tech-savvy group decided to give the standard newswires a run for their money. With the start of the Publish2 News Exchange in May 2010 we could very well be looking at the continued 'technolution' of digital journalism.

Publish2 is refreshingly upfront about their goal. They seek to create:
“a platform aimed at disrupting the Associated Press monopoly over content distribution to newspapers.”

While I am intrigued by the journalistic possibilities offered by digital media, I am not sure I agree with the suggestion that the Associated Press holds a monopoly over content distribution. Rather, I think it is a matter of perspective.

Once upon a time, newspapers and broadcast networks had reporters who reported back to the main office from remote locations (just look at the early work of Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite). However, the cost of running newsrooms has exploded and digital journalism has been one way to reduce costs -- why send reporters to the field, when you can glean stories from the various newswires, or if ethics aren't a problem for you, merely 'recycle' or 'borrow' the work of other journalists (yes Virginia, there IS a reason that some stories sound so familiar!).

Personally, I think the Associated Press and other news services have become part of the structural glue that holds the 'traditional news' media together. The availability of news service stories allows local news teams to focus on the local stories, or work on investigative stories. I don't think they started out to build a monopoly, but time, manpower, resources and finances enabled them to evolve that way.

That said, I am not surprised or dismayed at the idea behind the Publish2 News Exchange.

The Publish2 Blog suggests that by subscribing to any number of the Publish2 news feeds,
"... newspapers can replace the AP’s obsolete cooperative with direct content sharing and replace the AP’s commodity content with both free, high-quality content from the Web and content from any paid source."
I believe it was inevitable that the C-generation would eventually seek to create their own newswire that makes use of the technology available in innovative ways. Although there are benefits from a 'traditional' newswire standpoint, in exploring the premise of Publish2, I think the biggest benefit will be to bloggers and independent journalists.

In essence, the Publish2 system will allow bloggers and independent journalists to create their own newswire, essentially allowing them to syndicate their work for publication in more traditional media. However, it is this ease of use by non-traditional media that causes me to question Publish2's assertion that their service will 'replace the AP's commodity content with both free, high-quality content from the Web". Although they claim to check every 'organization' that registers to create a newswire, I would be interested to know what their criteria for approval are -- number of posts, number of followers, credentials of the author, etc... .

The development of Publish2 is an excellent example of mediamorphosis, adopting the effective aspects of traditional newswire services, and marrying them with existing digital media technology in new ways. At the same time the Publish2 service further blurs the line between traditional journalism and citizen journalism by allowing Joe Blogger/internet journalist the opportunity to market themselves and their work to a wider audience. No longer is 'news' the domain of the 'reporter', since anyone can 'report'.As a blogger myself, I am not adverse to being able to easily market myself and my work, I just wonder how many more voices will now join the cyber-din vying for their 15 minutes of fame.

The very premise of Publish2 is in many ways just the natural extension of the YouTube/Facebook/blogger generation's penchant for creating networks of users. This network mentality has already been demonstrated to be useful to more traditional media outlets, as seen in the continued development of and growing reliance on citizen journalism.

My biggest question, is that aside from offering blog oriented newswires, what 'hard news' does Publish2 really expect to offer. Why should media outlets utilize Publish2 for stories that are likely rehashed versions of AP stories, when they could continue to get them from the source? More than one media outlet has been burned when a journalist took information from a blog story only to find out that the information was flawed. The Publish2 News Exchange could be a way to avoid such problems in the future -- on the other hand it could merely serve to perpetuate it.

Only time will tell.

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