The analysis of Sarah Palin’s emails over the past few days may end up teaching us more about the future of journalism than about the former Alaska governor’s past.
Drawing on methods used by both Wikileaks and social networks, traditional news organizations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post used the Palin email dump as an experiment in new media techniques. They sought collaboration from readers and posted massive volumes of documents online before reporters even had a chance to read most of the papers.
That sort of public coordination — often called “crowdsourcing” — has drawn increasing interest from many journalists. David Lauter, chief of Tribune Co.’s Washington bureau, said he and his colleagues have wondered whether it would be a more productive way of analyzing data.
“It’s a concept that we’d been looking at,” Lauter said. “This seemed like a great opportunity to test to see how it might work.”
Of course, we all call BS to that explanation, because the crowdsourcing was used on Palin only because Palin was Palin, and the mainstream media organizations did not have enough manpower to do the hit job themselves.
A reader wrote to me and wondered whether the crowdsourcing potentially created union contract problems for the newspapers, since they were outsourcing what normally was an in-house reporting function for which the people performing the work were paid.
I don’t know enough about newspaper union contracts, and whether reporters even are covered, to opine on the union contract aspect.
But it does strike me that WaPo, The NY Times and others have adopted the HuffPo model of bringing together ideologically sypmathetic people to work for free for the profit of the media corporation.
In the case of HuffPo, it was a community of bloggers who worked mostly for free to build a liberal online community from which the corporation and Arianna Huffington profited, and in the case of WaPo, The NY Times and others, it was to outsource a reporting function for which the media organizations used to have to pay.
Crowdsourcing at major media organizations has a bright future, because people love getting free stuff, particularly the people who run WaPo and The NY Times.