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What’s the standard for citizen journalism?

I’m always a little creeped out when someone ends up here at Meranda Writes by googling my full name. I mean, yes, I Google people several times a day. But the idea of someone else googling me creeps me out. There was a hit from this weekend that was just a google search for “meranda watling.” Curious, I clicked through to see if there was anything interesting that pops up.

On the third page, I saw this post:

High School Awards Student with a Car – Associated Content
Meranda Watling, “Perfect attendance key to a big reward.” Journal & Courier URL: (http://www.jconline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article? …

I was confused because at no time have I ever written anything for Associated Content. I’ve seen their postings on job sites and such before. I always thought it was a scam, and was never really desperate enough to do it. I don’t know what it is or isn’t. But I do know this “article” is bad. Basically, it took the quotes, details and background from my story. Padded it a bit with context (where Benton Central is, etc.) gleaned, judging by the “sources” listed at the bottom, with some info off the school’s Web site. What the heck?

I’ve posted before about how I find it interesting to watch a story go out on the AP wire and how everyone handles it differently, sometimes reworking, sometimes adding and deleting content, sometimes localizing, etc. I’ve also been asked to “localize the AP story” or “write through with local reaction” on a wire story. You know, find local people affected by this trend, or replace people elsewhere with someone here, or use this to build a bigger enterprise piece off, or whatever. But we always credit the wire, whether it’s a double byline or a Contributing tag (for our reporter or for the AP/GNS reporter, depending on how much was local and how much was wire) or a simple “STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS.”

This Associated Content story here does say “According to the Journal & Courier” several times and credit the original article at the bottom as a source. But I’m not sure that story is in the spirit of either the AC Web site or of fair use. It’s not like there’s original reporting, or this was localizing a trend, or that they are a sister paper or member of the AP. It’s watering down and repackaging what I wrote into a boring story.

I took a look at the author’s article list to see if this was her normal practice. I’m really not familiar with Associated Content, so i don’t know what’s “normal” and what’s not. This person could be the exception or the norm. I don’t know, and this is the first author’s list I’ve looked at.

What I saw was there were a lot of articles I skimmed to see how much was reporting and how was just speculation/rehashing others. I quickly skimmed a few other authors to see if this was a trend. Here’s an article about getting a truly vegan tattoo, which is an interesting topic, but I’m wondering where the writer got her information or inside knowledge. Then there was this article about a dog sinking a car, which seemed to be like the story someone rewrote of mine, a mere rehash of an AP story on USA Today that was a rewrite from the Spokesman-Review story.

The best way to sum up what I saw was that it was a lot like a middle school term papers. You know, your teachers are still worrying about mechanics and are less worried about making sure you appropriately cite sources. So, it becomes common knowledge how many couples will wed on 07/07/07 or you become an expert on whether to take your child to a funeral or how to make them value their education. Either that, or you’re an all-knowing genius. I’m willing to bet it’s neither, and the sourcing and citing is just really spotty.

The bigger question I have about all this is: Do the readers notice or care? Do they hold these “citizen journalists” to a lower standard or could we slip by with half the work ourselves? If this is the future of news, should we be scared? Because looking at the comments on those articles, they range from “great advice” to “excellent article”. And I know as a working journalist I have higher expectations of my own and others work. Am I just old school for expecting to see a story that is appropriately sourced and original reporting? What does that mean for the future? Just something to think about.

2 Responses to “What’s the standard for citizen journalism?”

  1. Brad Linder Says:

    Have you contacted Associated Content about this? While the service may or may not be a scam, the goal would obviously be to scam writers into producing content for very little pay — but they do pay.

    Convincing them to withhold paychecks from this plagiarist might have some impact. At the very least, they could probably suspend her account.

  2. Tara Pringle Says:

    I’ve written for Associated Content as a way to make some money. They pay, but it’s not very much.
    Depending on the article, you could get paid about $20. The most I’ve ever gotten paid for one article
    is $11 and it was less than 500 words. But there’s no real standard for reporting on there. I think citizen journalism
    should be called something else. I like to think that what I do is an art, is a craft that I’ve worked extremely hard to perfect.
    I hate the idea that people who just get the urge one day to hop on the computer and write something, end up being taken
    seriously as journalists. Where does that leave me? Us?