The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

iReport and the ‘Field of Dreams’

Those of us working on MyMissourian like to talk about the ‘Field of Dreams’ concept that seems to plague startup Web offerings in particular.Jeremy Littau

“If we build it, they will come.”

It sounds so simple that it must be true, except that it’s not. One of the biggest lessons we learned in the early stages with MyMo is you have to promote your new site. A lot.

The reason I am thinking about this now is because I’ve spent a lot of time today looking over some of the participatory journalism offerings on the Web related to the Kansas tornado outbreak. CNN, in particular, caught my eye with their iReport call for submissions right below a story about how 95% of Greensburg, KS is gone after a huge tornado:

“Were you near the storms? E-mail us”

Most of the homes and businesses in Greensburg were destroyed, so I doubt they have either the electricity or the Internet connection (not to mention the wherewithal) at the moment. And those from a few miles away are gearing up for another round today, doubt they’ll make the trip to be an iReporter.

What makes participatory media different is we can share different voices through it, but it seems that the more local to the big news (say, Greensburg), the better. If this had happened in Columbia, our system would be to go out and find people to submit, not post a note on the site and hope the content comes in.

In traditional media such as newspapers or television, we tend to think the big guys, the national guys like the NYT or Washington Post, have the advantage. They have the resources and the manpower, and they can cover news in far-flung places when stuff matters.

But in a medium where the people are being depended on to tell the news, not just be a source, the hyperlocal journalist has all the advantage over the national players. They can find people in the community, people on the ground who can tell the story. It is examples like Greensburg that make me wonder whether national citizen journalism will ever get the kind of traction it needs to flourish. Our experience here is that human relationships, face-to-face contact, not only increases the likelihood of someone submitting but also the quality of those submissions.

The first outcome is great, the second one is absolutely core to what we’re trying to do.

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May 5, 2007 - Posted by | Jeremy Littau

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