Analysis - by on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 16:44 - 4 Comments

Creating value when everyone is a journalist

Many journalists — whether they choose to admit it or not — are scared of trying to make a living in a world where anyone can report.

It’s true that the Web, smartphones, social media, blogs, etc are making it easy for everyone to report and share their stories, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for professional journalists. In fact, I’d argue that citizen journalism, while helping to cover the world better, only highlights the need for professional journalists.

Over the past few days, I’ve extolled the virtues of social media in covering the unrest in Iran. True, without social media, this story might not be told properly, but there still has been a large need for professional reporters. Let’s take a look at some content from pros that has really helped provide clarity to what is going on in Iran:

FiveThirtyEight.com — The new media startup/blog that covered last year’s presidential election so well has a great piece on the suspect numbers coming out of Iran. FiveThirtyEight made its name by analyzing polling data, and in a post today it compares the 2005 Iranian presidential election to the one last week.

This is the kind of thoughtful, time consuming analysis that can’t be provided in 140 characters. It’s also the kind of analysis that can help make a journalism organization stand out.

Some irregularities that popped out:

Around 1600 GMT Sunday, the ministry of Interior released the official vote totals by province. As others have mentioned, by law candidates have three days following voting to contest the result, before the final totals are approved by the Supreme Leader. As such, it is notable that both the aggregate totals and provincial totals were certified, approved and released before the three day deadline.

We would have expected Ahmadinejad’s result from Friday, informed by the polling, historical trends and a bit of bet-hedging, to be between 40% and 55%. These figures would suggest that Ahmadinejad’s reported 65% of the national vote is at minimum outside of the trend, and more likely, an exaggerated figure.

Medhi Karroubi, over whom Ahmadinejad advanced to the 2005 runoff round by just 700,000 votes, was surrounded by controversy in that election as well, arguing that Ahamdinejad’s totals had been inflated by conservative hardliners. His openly accusatory allegations to the Supreme Leader resulted in his resignation from several top political posts.

This post is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why the election results are so suspect.

The Lede | The New York Times — The Lede has been leading the NYT’s coverage of Iran by curating the best content from around the world about the Iranian elections. The Lede is linking to other news organizations, bloggers, press reports, videos and, of course, New York Times content.

The Times provides an excellent example of how new and old forms of journalism can merge together to cover a story better. The Times still has its excellent traditional news stories that help put everything into context. These are the kinds of stories that are needed to help people make sense of all the upheaval in Iran.

But the Times also has The Lede, which is focusing on curating right now to provide the total picture of Iran. Professional journalists make excellent curators. Many are quite knowledgeable on certain subjects and make ideal people to curate content from around the Web.

The Iran election aftermath cannot be told fully by one news organization. That’s why a a mixed strategy of original reporting and curation of the best of the rest makes sense. The Lede is the ideal place to start on nytimes.com when looking for coverage of Iran.

BBC News — BBCNews.com has an excellent who’s who in Iran post up that makes an excellent primer for anyone wanting to know the major players in Iran. This is the kind of simple, yet information piece that you won’t see originating on social media. It provides excellent context for what’s going on and invites readers — especially non-Iranians — to learn about the key players.

Analysis content is where professional journalists can really stand out. On this front, the BBC has several great pieces on BBCNews.com. They have a Q&A with their correspondent in Tehran and an analysis piece comparing previous mass Iranian protests to the new ones.

Citizen journalism is here to stay, and it’s going to help provide fuller coverage of the world. But there is still an important place for professional journalists, especially when it comes to putting everything into context.


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About BeatBlogging.org

BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.