By Matt Coughlan
Crowdsourcing is yet to become a mainstream element of Australian journalism, but with the realities of major cuts to resources starting to bite, it is now being used out of necessity.
After it became apparent that MPs misuse of parliamentary entitlements was evolving in to a can of worms, Fairfax acted first to utilise it’s audience as a journalistic tool.
Led by political journalist Jonathon Swan, Fairfax established a website dedicated to stories detailing what MPs had claimed as expenses and then whether they had been paid back or not.
On the site, a link is provided to the entire public records available of the entire parliamentarians’ expenses records.
In this brave new world of doing “less with more”, Swan et al have put the power back in the hands of citizens’ without accreditation or employment in the media in order to report matters which are very much in the public interest.
This is smart crowdsourcing.
The skills of presenting and analysing the information provided are still needed by the journalists, but the audience engagement it provides is essential to bringing Fairfax into the digital first age.
Perhaps the world’s most foremost journalism academic, Jay Rosen, was derided by some in 2008 when he pointed to crowdsourcing as one of the ways journalism was going to adapt to the digital age.
“When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.”
This is precisely what Fairfax have done.
They equipped the audience with the tools to provide them with information which they can filter and polish to produce a incisive piece of journalism.
It’s not about letting the readers solely produce content.
It’s a relationship of engagement between journalist and audience that is designed to involve the reader in the journalistic process while maintaining the use of skills of professional journalists.
Crowdsourcing has had a relatively slow take-up rate in Australia.
It’s time the mainstream media embraced their audience as the vital resource they can be.
Journalism will be better for it.