Downsides of paying citizen journalists

After talking yesterday about the idea of paying citizen journalists for content, we need to examine how realistic this actually is. Personally, I don’t think it’s that easy. There’s a lot to consider here, remember: you get what you pay for.

Logistically thinking, how do you standardize this process? News organizations may think to make a database of citizen journalists they rely on and then come up with a payment schedule, but again that pesky idea of breaking news comes up. With the prevalence of social media, using a photo from a person you’ve never worked with before may be the best option. The mere thought of trying to come up with a streamlined list of citizen journalists in your community just sounds like a nightmare.

In the heat of the moment, in the middle of a busy news day, I’m sure one of the last things professional journalists are concerned about is making sure they have everybody’s information that provides them with content or leads them to an interview source. It almost seems like there needs to be one person who is dedicated to this task, but it sounds like it could be very stressful!

There are ethical concerns, too, which are never easy to resolve. The Society of Professional Journalists disagrees with this practice wholeheartedly, because it calls into serious question the credibility of the information right off the bat. Ideally, news organizations would want to think citizens are providing information out of a desire to do better, but payment could significantly change the nature of the relationship from the beginning.

Courtesy: Reflections of a Newsosaur

Courtesy: Reflections of a Newsosaur

Being a citizen journalist is more risky than perhaps people originally think, because they lack the same types of protections that professional journalists do. This could further be complicated with a monetary transaction, because (god forbid) a court get involved, someone may always take issue with money being exchanged.

So back to this saying, you get what you pay for. Albeit a critical blog, Planet Jeffro brings up some really good points about this saying. Patch.com, a “hyper-local” news site, pays $40/story. This doesn’t seem like much (it’s not, really), but whether a story is written well and has proper punctuation is only half the battle. How much “reporting” was really done? It’s certainly not fair to think that two people could get paid for the same thing, while the amount of work put in could be completely unequal.

Certainly I think it’s fair to consider the idea of paying citizen journalists, but taking into account the fact that there isn’t even a standard among all journalism outlets for how to use citizen journalism, we’re probably a long way off from seeing any real payment for stories, sources, photos, videos, audio, etc.

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One thought on “Downsides of paying citizen journalists

  1. This post is a good example of easily-avoiding image use problems. Both images are words on a solid color background (okay, the first has a weird pseudo-3D question mark, but that’s best dropped anyway). Putting aside for the moment whether they’re really adding anything, WHY did you need to get these somewhere else? This is work you could have done yourself, thus never having to confront potentially infringing use. Don’t let yourself get lazy.

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