Perton then introduced Lila King, who is a senior producer at and leads the cable network’s iReports team at King gave a bit of history on the project, noting that when it was created in 2006, it drew 13
iReports from viewers on the first day. By the end of 2007, CNN was getting 10,000 submissions per month, of which about 900 would be fact checked and published. Now, however, viewers can register to be iReporters and upload video and audio contributions. Anything that is used by CNN is fact checked. Most reports are self-generated, but CNN also suggests assignments, such as covering the California wildfires or contributing questions to “The Situation Room”, the CNN program. King spends a lot time pitching iReports to the network, in fact. On the day of the Virginia Tech shootings, for example, an on-the-scene iReport was the “key video of the day.” Other significant iReport coverage has included the Minnesota bridge collapse and protests in Myanmar. During the campaign, iReporters were invited to discuss the presidential debates. King said that the approach produces a “different quality” of conversation that is more “raw.” But now CNN and the audience are “all in it together,” King noted, though, “Community management takes a lot more time than I ever thought it would.” Her original estimation that it would only require a “few” hours per day was a bit “naïve,” she concluded.

After CNN’s King, Thor Muller, the CEO of Get Satisfaction, talked about his site, which provides “people-powered customer service.” Get Satisfaction is an open, transparent, and “neutral” forum that connects companies,
employees, and customers in an effort to foster problem solving and efficiency, asserted Muller. He said he hopes what he’s doing will be “materially useful” to journalists and then discussed four themes in customer service:

1) “Public is the New Private,” whereby there are new incentives for engagement between companies, employees, and customers that are both social and monetary. Social media creates serendipity, expands the universe of
experts, and shames companies into responding to their customers.

2) “Honesty as a Prophylactic,” whereby consumers use search engines and databases such as Google as a check on market accountability. Muller said that the Internet has given consumer more control over companies’
reputations. He noted, for instance, that it wasn’t necessary for Bob Garfield to be a media figure to succeed with Comcast Must Die. Companies can no longer hide, Muller said; they respond and social media is “changing
the way they do business.”

3) “Business is Becoming Personal,” whereby individuals are taking responsibility for their reputations and will not carry out flawed policies.

4) “Kindler, Gentler Customers,” whereby consumers are becoming less irate in their interactions with companies because they have forums where their concerns are being addressed.

Those forums also provide opportunities for consumer journalists, Muller concluded. They allow pattern matching and analysis, provide context for anecdotes, encourage re-humanization of the companies, reduce incentives for
bad actors, and demand better customer service.

The next speaker was Judith Meskill, the Chief Operating Officer of Crowd Fusion and former Chief Operating Officer of Weblogs, and a popular speaker on social media and online communities. Meskill said that she started in the business working at Pacific Bell’s Web service. At that time, the customer service team wasn’t prepared to receive customer feedback by e-mail, which seemed like a “no brainer” to her. On the first day, company employees were manning the phones while over 10,000 e-mails poured in, but no calls. This is evidence that consumers have moved on to the Web in overwhelming numbers.

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.

Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.