Unmoderated citizen journalism means one thing: incoherence

Alex Webb

The term “news agenda” is frequently bandied around: “Such-and-such is driving the news agenda”, “So-and-so contributed to today’s news agenda”.

It suggests there is some sort of coherence to the way news is reported, that what hits our television screens or fills our newspapers is considered before it reaches us; not that it is censored or an opinion imposed upon it, although that might sometimes be the case, but that it is not arbitrarily presented to us. There is a reason we refer to news outlets as the media: each one is a medium through which we can access the day’s news.

This is where online citizen journalism falls short. It is not that the standard of reporting is inherently inferior, or that a lack of professionalism means naïveté is unavoidable. It is a question of coherence. The very best user-generated news sites have a professional staff: those at CNN’s iReport, surely the market leader, not only decide which stories will lead on the website, but also vet stories, checking for accuracy and veracity. Of the 544,883 ‘iReports’ posted since the its launch in 2006, 38,382 have been vetted, a ticker on the site purports. Without such work, iReport would be garbled, as reddit (the news aggregator) can often seem to be.

That it needs editorial vetting raises a question mark over the extent to which it can really be called user-generated, but this is surely the only model which is feasible. In order to prevent news simply becoming a constantly tumbling waterfall which drowns consumers, moderation is necessary, and the professional journalist will therefore always be essential.

Also worth checking out:

Le Post (France’s answer to the iReport)

Ground Report

RINF Alternative News

NowPublic

Demotix

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