Changing of the Media Guards

A few months ago I posed the question "Will citizen journalism replace traditional journalism?"

I recently came across an article that gives a great example of why the answer is "yes." Roland Legrand, a multimedia newsroom manager for Belgian publisher Mediafin, wrote a great piece for PBS.org's Mediashift, detailing a newspaper's role in bringing a community together. He pretty much sums up the reason why user-generated media is destined to replace traditional media:

"The people formerly known as the readers have now become readers/writers. In the 'good old days' of the print newspaper, we only got a few letters each day. Today, we get hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments on our news articles each day. With the click of a button, readers can easily and instantly post reactions to articles. Furthermore, the readers don't only react to our articles -- they react far more often to each others' comments. The article may start a discussion, but it does not necessarily remain the center of attention."

He likens his paper's new live blog application a soccer game: "One can watch it at home, alone, or experience the magic of being all together with fellow fans in the stadium." He maintains that readers don't want to just read news; they want to discuss it.

I thought about his article when I read my Sunday Washington Post the other day. Front page, above the fold was a story about DC's charter schools. A prominent call-out box to the right of the story pointed out additional features to the story on washingtonpost.com:

  • "Interactive Charter Schools Map: Find out how each school measures up on test scores and other data.

  • Multimedia: Narrated photo galleries of principals, faculty and students.

  • Live Online: Reporters...host a discussion at noon tomorrow."


The thing is this: with newspapers folding like houses of cards lately due to plumeting sales and ad revenue, how long are they going to be able to pay people to generate the same content that's available online in spades online for free? Take this charter school article, for instance; The Post had to pay not only the two authors of the article, but the person/people who created the interactive map and narrated photo gallery--as well as an additional reporter for the live online chat. Not to mention the production and printing costs.

If you search "DC charter schools" on Google blogsearch, you get over 30,000 results--take your pick. Prefer multimedia? Right now, YouTube has almost 50 videos about DC charter schools. Online interaction? Try the DC Charter School Reform group on Yahoo or the "I Love my DC Charter School" group on Facebook.

All I know is this: if traditional media does fall, there's plenty of user-generated content poised and ready to take its place.