Put a programmer in your newsroom

‘Citizen journalism’ isn’t necessarily about citizens becoming journalists. Thankfully. I sat through an edition of BBC News 24’s new show ‘Your News‘, and found it excruciating. The raison d’etre seemed to be: we’ve got all this material coming in to us, most of it admittedly mediocre in quality, and we have to do something with it. It was, quite literally, amateur.

It’s now hard to imagine live radio without email and text message contributions, with the BBC’s own Five Live being a perfect case study of how to integrate them into the flow. Television just hasn’t found a good way to incorporate viewer contributions yet. Fingers crossed for Sky’s Green Britain thing next week. The signs are encouraging; but Sky’s track record is patchy. (I know, I was there.)

But ‘citizen journalism’ can also be a collaborative thing. A piece in the Online Journalism Review describes an ideal opportunity for this. An article in the Los Angeles Times queried the pricing policy at Amazon. OJR writer Robert Niles suggests that readers who participated in Amazon’s affiliate scheme could contribute the data from their sales commission, to help work out what Amazon’s pricing formula actually is. As media uber-blogger Jeff Jarvis points out: ‘They just need a way to do that.’

It’s another argument in favour of having a ‘guerrilla’ technical development team (even a team of one) as part of any online news operation. A competent developer, with free and unfettered access to a live server, could probably throw a rough-and-ready database application together within a few hours. Contributors could be invited to chuck their data into that database. With luck, many would. And suddenly you’ve got a much stronger story with a second day of shelf life.