Meskill’s new project, Crowd Fusion, was created to develop the new tools and platforms necessary for Web publishing at scale. Its platforms leverage a number of social media components like IM, Skype, and Google Docs. They also work on search engine optimization and aggregating “conversations” from around the Web. There is a rating and quality control system that filters for the best information. Crowd Fusion can provide journalists with helpful tools by allowing them to search for stories that are “socially popular,” and Meskill pointed to Twitter and Facebook as examples of social media that are particularly “potent” tools for journalists. The conversations that are
happening on each of these Web sites are different, she added, and there is a large incentive for companies and producers to pay attention to what is being discussed online. The same goes for journalists. Meskill said that it
is not so much that the potency of journalism is evaporating online, but rather that there is a poor “currency of trust.” Journalists, she concluded, should leverage social media to bring readers and audiences in and improve
that trust.

The fourth and last panelist was Joel Sucherman, the director of product innovation at USA Today, where he recently took the editorial lead in the re-design and re-launch of USAToday.com. Sucherman explained that one of the founding principles at the publication was “opening its doors” to readers, and there was an early realization that those readers were an untapped resource. “Reporters will never understand the intricacies of something” as well as people who live and deal with that thing every day, he said.

Networked journalism is an important editorial mission at USA Today, but it is incumbent upon the Web site to provide the tools and the space for readers to help produce quality content rather than hollow chatter. Since
USA Today’s site re-launched, for example, each headline includes a prominent comment and recommendation count, so that readers can see where the “buzz” is. They also created more space for user-generated content. They’ve had photo collections of opening day at Major League Baseball games around the country and impressive weather scenes. Getting published on the site is a “really big deal for people,” Sucherman said. The site also has reader blogs such as the NFL Blog Squad, where readers in major cities around the country have set up home team blogs. In an effort to have the Web “give back” to the print edition, the newspaper now runs “Page 3.0,” a user-generated sports page. Such trends in social media are altering roles in the newsroom, he added. In a variation on the “Long Tail” concept of business, Sucherman offered the “Fuzzy Tail” concept whereby staff employees now have to do “a little bit of everything,” from print, to Web, to multimedia, to community management.

This new organization allows for more engaging storytelling, Sucherman argued. For example, USA Today created a “candidate match game,” in which readers entered their political positions and were shown which candidates best matched their views. There was also a “presidential poll tracker” that aggregated all of the available election polls. Sucherman described the approach as “database reporting, a gift that keeps on giving” through constant updates and a live flow of data, and which stays active for long periods of time. The databases aggregate professional and public knowledge in all media, including blogs, videos, photos, and audio files. Once again demonstrating the changing roles in the newsroom, Sucherman added that reporters are now becoming more like “curators of information.” An example of this is Gene Sloan’s Cruise Log blog at USA Today, which aggregates professional and user information about cruises. Through a variety of comments, reviews, and ratings, the expertise behind that site in provided by the crowd.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.