PJ: Crowd sourcing and crowd sourced journalism

crowdThrough crowdsourcing, organizations can solicit skills and ideas from a large group of people, such as the online community, to generate content, products or financing. / Credit: diez artwork | Shutterstock

Crowdsourcing is a term used to describe the process of getting work or funding from a large group of people in an online setting. The basic concept behind this term is to use a large group of people for their skills, ideas and participation to generate content or help facilitate the creation of content or products.

In a sense, crowdsourcing is the distribution of problem solving. If a company needs funding for a project, marketing content for an upcoming campaign or even research for a new product, the crowd is a powerful resource capable of generating vast amounts of money, content and information.

The Internet is now a melting pot of user-generated content from blogs to Wikipedia entries to YouTube videos. The distinction between producer and consumer is no longer such a prevalent distinction as everyone is equipped with the tools needed to create as well as consume.

As a business strategy, soliciting customer input isn’t new, and open source software has proven the productivity possible through a large group of individuals.

While the idea behind crowdsourcing isn’t new, its active use online as a business building strategy has only been around since 2006. The phrase was initially coined by Jeff Howe, where he described a world in which people outside of a company contribute work toward that project’s success. Video games have been utilizing crowdsourcing for many years through their beta invitation. Granting players early access to the game, studios request only that these passionate gamers report bugs and issues with gameplay as they encounter before the finished product is released for sale and distribution.

Companies utilize crowdsourcing not only in a research and development capacity, but also to simply get help from anyone for anything, whether it’s word-of-mouth marketing, creating content or giving feedback.

Crowdsourcing is a powerful business marketing tool as it allows an organization to leverage the creativity and resources of its own audience in promoting and growing the company for free. From designing marketing campaigns to researching new products to solving difficult business roadblocks, an organization’s consumers can likely provide important guidance and answers. And, best of all, all the consumer wants in return for their opinion and effort is some recognition or even a simple reward.

Crowdsourcing increases the productivity of a company while minimizing labor expenses. The Internet is a time-proven strategy for soliciting feedback from an active and passionate consumer base. Customers today want to be involved in the companies they buy from, which makes crowdsourcing an incredibly effective tool.

At the same time, consumers aren’t employees, which means organizations can’t contain or control them. Leveraging the interaction and resources of your audience can put an organization at risk from a public relations standpoint as things can get ugly quickly when not properly handled. Crowds may not ask for cash or free product, but they will demand satisfaction in one form or another, whether it’s recognition, freedom or honesty.

Many different types of crowdsourcing exist, helping organizations get work or funding from a large group of people at little to no cost to them. Kickstarter is one popular option of crowdfunding, a type of crowdsourcing where individuals pledge money toward a proposed project idea that is at the concept or pre-production stage. Consumers are essentially paying for a product before it becomes available, giving many companies the revenue needed to bring an idea to fruition. While this does not always guarantee a finished product as companies may fail or revenue generated proves insufficient, Kickstarter projects leverage the trust of the consumer by providing increased levels of honesty and transparency.

Wikipedia is another popular crowdsourcing medium. Editable by the public at large, the founding forces behind this online encyclopedia decided that rather than develop the entire website’s content themselves, they would leverage the resources, passion and time of their audience to create content. As a result, Wikipedia has become one of the most comprehensive encyclopedia resources globally.

Crowdsourcing creates an avenue through which consumers can become more actively engaged in the work companies do. As the internet continues to bridge communication divides between consumers and businesses, crowdsourcing becomes ever a more prevalent resource to be utilized.

Crowdsourcing provides an easier way for journalists and storytellers to get the right information for a good story. Here’s how some of the big players are doing it – from crowdsourcing examples to AI software.

The same year Twitter launched in 2006, Wired writer Jeff Howe coined the term “crowdsourcing”. The term has been around for more than a decade, and the practice of  ‘tapping into the collective intelligence of the public at large’ is still being used by researchers, journalists and publishers alike – daily.

Pre 2006 (pre social media and other online sources) it was much harder for storytellers and journalists to get by on the right information, and credible resources, for a good story. Getting something newsworthy meant heavily relying on news tips and word of mouth to scoop a story as it broke. Today it has become somewhat easier; a quick search online can bring up vast quantities of relevant information and images that might have been otherwise unavailable. Today, verifying whether or not something is newsworthy to your readers, can be done with a simple tweet – as seen below.

PJ: Crowd sourcing and crowd sourced journalism 2

The Guardian


Autism Awareness Week: share your experiences https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/26/autism-awareness-week-share-your-experiences?CMP=twt_gu 

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Autism Awareness Week: share your experiences

We want to hear from people about the issues they face and think we should be reporting on during Autism Awareness Week


34 people are talking about this


The internet and social media has become a kind of free-for-all information library that’s updated by people from around the world, 24 hours a day. Because the normal man in the street can be at a scene sometimes long before journalists are, it becomes an important source of information – especially on online news and social networking services like Twitter. For storytellers and journalists this could mean more complete and more comprehensive research when tapping into online sources. It could also mean more engaging content for readers.


Cambridge Analytica ()

Screenshot Twitter; Rolling news updates on #CambridgeAnalytica as it happens on Twitter


According to the American Press Institute, the best stories contain more verified information from more sources, with more viewpoints and expertise. They exhibit more enterprise and more reportorial effort. Which is where crowdsourcing comes in. The Columbia Journalism School defines crowdsourcing best:

Journalism crowdsourcing is the act of specifically inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting task—such as newsgathering, data collection, or analysis—through a targeted, open call for input; personal experiences; documents; or other contributions.


Publishers who crowdsource

Publishers are doing exactly this – inviting people to contribute to their reporting tasks. Not only for research purposes, but to get the right angle with various viewpoints to make stories more significant, more relevant and more engaging. Prime examples of publishers using media crowdsourcing in journalism include The Guardian, ProPublica and Vox media. Here’s how they do it.

1. The Guardian

Apart from the already given Twitter crowdsourcing example, The Guardian uses Reader Questions in their articles to crowdsource which topics their audience would like more details on. Based on votes, editors can shape future coverage whilst also having a better understanding of their readers’ interest. In a recent article on Facebook’s mistakes over Cambridge Analytica, they had the following embedded poll at the end of the article:


Guardian question ()

Screenshot The GuardianReader Questions embedded in Facebook’s mistakes over Cambridge Analytica article.


In an article by DigiDay UK, Guardian publishers said that each question on their site has thousands of reader responses, amounting to nine per cent of people on average who see the question. In some cases, this rises to 20 per cent. A nice way to gauge reader interest for possible follow-up articles.

2. ProPublica

In another crowdsourcing example, ProPublica asked for reader input for their piece Lost Mothers – an engaging piece of journalism that explores reasons why the US has the highest rate of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world. Getting reader input was key to making the project a success – and in one year over 5,000 stories were submitted by readers. How they did it meant crossing traditional and engaged journalism as they reached out to partners (like the NRP) to put the word out there for crowdsourcing input. In the below example, Facebook was amongst the platforms used.



3. Vox Media

At Vox Media, a similar approach to crowdsourcing is taken – with Twitter being the prime source of crowdsourcing. Liz Plank, senior producer and correspondent, used crowdsourcing to ask for female experts’ input on a very specific topic – Rwanda and the state of gender equality in the country after genocide. Another reporter, Johnny Harris, used crowdsourcing on social media to explore the impact that borders have on people living on either side of them. It netted 6,000 replies from around the world.


Embedded video

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Johnny Harris


We have our six border locations! Submit your ideas of what I should see while I’m traveling. http://Vox.com/borders-dispatch 

See Johnny Harris’s other Tweets


Limitations in crowdsourcing

That said, crowdsourcing also has its limitations. When audience’s entry points into a journalistic process is false, but are taken as truths, the implications can cause serious damage. An example of this is crowdsourcing that took place during the Boston bombing, where innocent men were falsely identified as suspects in the days after the bombing. Like Sunil Tripathi, who was mistaken as one of the bombers due to misinformation on Reddit.

As with Tripathi, unverified crowdsourcing, poor journalism and social media led to irresponsible speculations causing varied amounts of damage to those involved. It is thus crucial that when journalists and storytellers crowdsource, it has to be done right.

Tripathi siblings ()

Image credit: Columbia Journalism Review. The Tripathi siblings: Sangeeta, Sunil, and Ravi.


Crowdsourcing done right

To present “the facts” and the “truth about the facts,” journalists and storytellers need to practise a discipline of verification. For crowdsourcing, the TOW Center for Digital Journalism has six different calls to action they follow to verify information, as given in their Guide for Crowdsourcing:

  • Voting—prioritising which stories reporters should tackle.
  • Witnessing—sharing what you saw during a news event.
  • Sharing personal experiences—telling what you know about your life experience.
  • Tapping specialised expertise—contributing data or unique knowledge.
  • Completing a task—volunteering time or skills to help create a news story.
  • Engaging audiences—joining in call-outs that can range from informative to playful.


The “sharing (of) personal experiences”  also means giving credit where it’s due and verifying original sources of information. Due to reaps of content available online, especially on platforms like Twitter, and deadline driven stories that needs to get published – research time is often limited. To help with this publishers are turning to software solutions to sift through the clutter and determine what’s valid, and what’s not.

In the case of Emma Gonzalez’s most recent cover shoot with Teen Vogue, social platform Gab posted what they called “a parody/satire” where, instead of ripping a target poster, Gonzalez is ripping the Constitution. With over 1,500 retweets and 3,000 likes (at the time of writing this piece), exposing the source of the smear campaign proved to be just as important. What can help with this?

Never again ()

Since posting this piece, this tweet has been removed.


Solutions for crowdsourcing

When practicing crowdsourcing, journalists and storytellers’ jobs can be made easier with things like software and external platforms. Publishers who turn to these solutions for crowdsourcing are not only getting it right, but getting it right faster for quicker turnaround times on breaking news stories.

1. A software solution for crowdsourcing 

An example of software used for crowdsourcing includes Elvis Digital Asset Management (DAM). When integrated with things like Twitter and artificial intelligence (AI), images for breaking news stories can be sources faster by:

  1. Eliminating irrelevant content
  2. Verifying images quickly
  3. Citing sources with automated links to Twitter.

See how it’s done here.

2. A platform solution example for crowdsourcing 

Platforms used for crowdsourcing more sensitive information – like that provided by whistleblowers – includes solutions like SecureDrop. Media organisations use the platform to securely accept documents from, and communicate with, anonymous sources. These solutions, along with objective storytelling and ethical journalism, can help with good, engaging, storytelling.

With the rise of the internet correlating with the rise of crowdsourcing, technologies have made good journalism easier. Identifying sources, getting the right research and following breaking-news developments as it happens provides varied angles that wasn’t available pre social media and the internet. With the right technology tools and software solutions, it can be even easier for publishers to crowdsource information and gather, assess, create, and present news and information to readers in ways they’ve never experienced before. Are you doing crowdsourcing right?

This article is authored by Madre Roothman, product marketing manager at WoodWing.

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