I blog about it all the time: citizen journalism is on the rise. Meanwhile, newspapers are folding at an ever-increasing rate.
What’s the natural next step as these two trends become more and more prevalent? Online news outlets depending on citizen–e.g. unpaid–journalists to provide content while they continue to phase-out real–e.g. paid–journalists. Not only does this make sense financially, but since user-generated content is what readers want anyway, advertisers are becoming increasingly interested in going where the unpaid–and popular–content is.
A concrete step towards this new model will be rolled out this coming Monday–in the form of a blogroll, that is. The New York Times is launching a local blog network that will feature content from the paper’s editors but also rely on user-generated content from locals readers. Jim Schachter, editor for digital initiatives at The New York Times, explained:
We expect to sell ads to local merchants using our telesales and self-serve ad solution. Our two pilot sites are staffed with full-time NYTimes reporters. That’s not cheap. Obviously, it’s also not a sustainable model.
What a dream scenario for newspapers and online news outlets, right? Not only do they not have to pay reporters anymore, but ad revenue will increase.
My question is this: is relying on citizen journalists a sustainable model? As it stands now, playing on citizen journalists’ vanity is basically the model: people want to write and have people read it, and they want to be able to say that their stuff is featured on mainstream, high-traffic websites.
But how long will people be willing to put the time and effort into creating high-quality blog or video posts if they’re not being compensated? At what point do citizen journalists basically become freelancers working for free? If I had to guess, I’d say right about the time when statistics start to show that websites are generating a bunch of revenue as a result of the content users are providing for free.
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