It would be nice if the proprietors of KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa, California — a tiny pimple on the giant media corpus that is Clear Channel Communications — had decided that “citizen journalism” or “crowdsourcing” or “open source journalism” or whatever we’re calling it these days was a truly valuable thing to have, a worthy goal in and of itself for a media entity.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. What happened is that Clear Channel wanted to cut costs, so it fired all the news reporters at what appears to be a marginal TV station. And now the management are trying citizen journalism as a fallback position. And the guy in charge of the station, whose name is Steve Spendlove (I am not making this up), says that he prefers to think of what he’s doing as “local content harvesting.” Seriously.
This, of course, is very close to what Seth Finkelstein likes to call it, which is “digital sharecropping.” Although the San Francisco Chronicle article says that Spendlove is considering paying contributors, it’s not clear how — or how much. Presumably they will operate on the popular “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” model. And Mr. Spendlove admits that, in order to maintain a certain level of quality control, the station may have to hire more editors.
The Poynter Institute’s site has more, and Dan Kennedy at MediaNation points out that citizen journalism is often a euphemism for getting content for nothing, to boost a content producer’s bottom line. But Dan makes a good point: since the technology is cheap and plentiful, what exactly does a citizen journalist gain by giving their content to a TV station for free, when they can just upload it to YouTube? In the long run, TV stations like KFTY may be sowing the seeds of their own irrelevance.
Not surprisingly, many people think this is a dumb idea squared, including the TV critic from the Miami Herald (not surprising perhaps), as well as this guy and this guy. I think citizen journalism is an interesting idea — but this is not citizen journalism, it’s just financial desperation. Not a great motivator.