Stephen Colbert recently “lauded” CNN for laying off its full-time reporters in favor of its iReport department, where it doesn’t pay for content. Pundits had predicted that this would happen. Major news outlets will get rid of paid reporters in favor of free reporters. Yet I think that’s not the endgame by far. There are two reasons a lot of citizen news is reported. One is that people genuinely feel that the story they are reporting needs to get out. The other is that they are trying to establish journalism credentials for their future, which is fine. Yet CNN’s actions shows that if there is not future for paid journalists, many iReporters will think, “Well, what’s the point of doing this?”
People don’t lay the groundwork for careers that don’t exist.
I bet you that other news outlets will follow CNN’s lead. Yet the blow back already started with the HuffPo. Citizen journalists will wisen up and demand to be paid for their work–and not at Associated Content rates. News organizations like CNN will notice that their content quality and their audience will decrease. Even if not for the content quality, it would be for the perceived content quality decline, for it won’t be a secret if an organization is depending on free content. Colbert’s bit alone has already created this perception of declined quality.