The recent release of Sarah Palin’s boatload of emails gave us a new glimpse into the way citizens can contribute to the news process.
Faced with boxes of documents and a limited number of staff and hours on June 10, some major news outlets – like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times - decided to scan and post the emails online without first reviewing most of them. Once posted, these mainstream media outlets welcomed the public’s help in scrutinizing and reviewing the thousands of emails.
“The readers are augmenting the work of our journalists, not taking their place,” Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor with The New York Times, reportedly wrote in an email. “The readers are just an extra, and valuable, resource.”
As Steve Doig, an Arizona State University journalism professor, told The Arizona Daily Star: “You don’t have to be a professional reporter to be able to recognize statements that might be newsworthy…. Having lots and lots of eyeballs looking through it – whether it’s a professional reporter or just somebody who’s looking for their own interest or amusement – you can more quickly find something newsworthy.”
While this isn’t exactly how I envisioned citizens helping in the news process, I’m guessing all those extra eyes and brains can be helpful when you’re dealing with an overabundance of documents.
I just wish citizens would get as excited about helping the media cover news in their cities and towns as they do about looking at old emails of big-name politicians.
Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).