Analysis: 3 MSM Sites, 3 Limited Ways to Participate

Increasingly, it appears as though major MSM outlets are adapting to meet the realities of the digital age by allowing citizens to participate and express views and submit content on their Web sites. The ability for users to have a way to participate in the news gathering process is becoming more vital as Internet users get used to the Web as a 2-way medium.

Over the past week, I’ve taken a look at three major news Web sites to determine the extent to which they allow their readers get involved. Here’s a rundown of my findings:

1. CNN – CNN’s primary method for citizen participation involves the use of their online iReport feature. According to Wikipedia:

“CNN I-Report is a program from CNN designed to collect and utilize user-generated content as part of CNN’s existing editorial process. The I-Report program is part of the larger CNN Exchange initiative, which is designed to bring social media into CNN’s more traditional brand.”

The iReport feature actually appears to be a promising way to enhance CNN’s comprehensive coverage of major news stories. Skimming through the iReport page I found some video of the Indonesian earthquake that was pretty interesting. At the same time, however, I noticed that all user videos that CNN editors choose to display are tagged with the “iReport” logo and are preceded by ads. I wonder if “corporatizing” user generated content might discourage citizen journalists from participating and submitting content.

2. USA Today (Online) – USA Today recently launched a new look and feel to their Web site. Along with some major design changes have come some upgrades to the way USA Today allows for user input. They’ve provided a handy guide to their new features which include an expanded user comment feature, the ability to “recommend” stories (kind of like Digg.com), and a way for readers to create their own USA Today-hosted personal blog (complete with avatar).

3. The Washington Post (Online) – To a large extent, the WP has followed USA Today’s lead in adding features that allow for user comments and rankings. At the very top of the Post’s page, for example, you can see a listing of the most popular stories. Users on WashingtonPost.com can also leave comments after stories. Also, the Post has added links to social bookmarking Web sites like del.icio.us, digg, and reddit.

It’s encouraging to see old media outlets begin to address the need for citizen participation in the news gathering process. However, I think its fairly transparent that these efforts are overwhelmingly reactionary and desperate attempts to survive in the digital world.


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