Beating the Algorithm

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Image by MUMA Monash

In the old days of “influencer relations” (you know way back when in 2009), PR professionals targeted the magic middle and top tier bloggers, which triggered larger blog coverage, and then more often than not traditional news media.

Since then digital media companies straddled the space occupied by both traditional journals and the top tier of bloggers. They use algorithms to detect hot news stories before they trend in the blogosphere, then break the news before traditional players and bloggers alike.

Specifically, Mashable, the Huffington Post, Forbes, Google and the others use algorithms listen to chatter on the social web. When hot trends bubble up they source the content provider, assign a reporter, or in the worst cases use narrative science — computer-based news writing — to break the story first.

This effectively takes power away from PR executives to affect the news cycle through traditional influencer outreach, and in turn, empowers the crowd to determine stories.

Some news outlets use the crowd to validate top stories, too. Validation is embodied by shares on social networks and comments.

For example, USA Today features stories on its web properties based on the posts that get shared the most. The old assignment editor loses weight in these scenarios.
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Building a Market for Citizen Journalists

إئتلاف الثورة السورية فرع قبرص - 20-05-2011 / CYPRUS
Image by Syrian Freedom

It was a great honor to feature some of the organizations that are trying to build a stronger citizen journalist corps last week on Mashable. One of the more striking aspects of the story interviews was a perceived need to build a receptive audience for citizen journalists. For example, both AllVoices and Global Voices are building platforms for new citizen voices.

In his interview for the piece, AllVoices GM Aki Hashmi said the biggest challenge facing citizen journalists was, “Being heard.” And as quoted in the Mashable piece Solana Larsen, managing editor of Global Voices, said, “Cultivating readership of citizen media is probably just as important as cultivating citizen media itself. People could be typing away in Egypt but if no one inside or outside the country were reading what they were saying or taking them seriously, it would have little effect.”

The need for a citizen journalist platform makes sense. If you think about it, most news organizations are not as progressive as CNN in highlighting citizen journalists (the iReports you see on the cable networks web site).

Instead, citizen journalists are left to compete with every other form of blogging and content creation on the social web. And there is significant competition from parent blogs to gamers.

Small World News Director and Cofounder Brian Conley stated as much in his interview for the story. “The biggest challenge for citizen journalists at the moment is to rise above the mass of citizen content and make themselves heard,” said Conley.

Citizen journalists are rarely looked for except when an event occurs. It is then — particularly in areas where the media is not present; has a relatively small foot print; or is simply not covering a story — that citizen journalism really shines. If you think about the most notable moments for citizen journalism, it has been when they break stories instead of the media. That is when independent voices become the Fifth Estate as first envisioned by media professor Stephen Cooper.

One thing is clear, even in its current limited role citizen journalism is working. As it matures, it might become more of a commonplace aspect of reporting the news. Reader demand for non-traditional masthead voices may increase.

Of course, that will take formal vetting by more journalist organizations to be included side by side with paid journalists. Having written a couple of iReports that made it to the front page of CNN’s site, the vetting process was significant with editors fact checking your report on the phone. Or new citizen journalism platforms like those mentioned here may simply become go to places for “on the scene” points of view.

What do you think about the future of citizen journalism?

Gulf Photo Essays – Oil Angels & Signs of Grand Isle

Here are my first two CNN iReport photo essays from the Citizen Effect Gulf Mission to help Gulf Fishermen. The first is Oil Angels, featuring the faces of the fishing families and nonprofits trying to serve them…

The second photo essay is Signs of Grand Isle, featuring protest signs showing the damage the oil spill has caused, including protests from local citizens.

Enjoy! And keep following us at the Citizen Effect Gulf Mission program page.