At The New York Times, crowdsourcing—be it a reader comments, photos, or additional on-the-scene information—is overseen by careful editorial judgment, said social media editor Lexi Mainland.

The advantages to this approach can be seen in the NYT’s Boston bombings coverage. Mainland worked closely with reporters and editors to create an interactive graphic, based on a single freeze frame taken from surveillance footage of the finish line, that captured the moment of the first bomb explosion from the perspective of those who were there.

Times journalists and editors first tried to identify as many people in the freeze frame as possible, said Mainland. She then put out a call on the Lede Blog asking readers for their help. Four of the 19 verified accounts on the final interactive came from Mainland’s crowdsourcing efforts.

Crowdsourcing “not only gives us a window into a story that we might not have had otherwise, but it also fosters a deeper connection between us and the people who are consuming our journalism,” said Mainland.

But just because it is easy to reach out doesn’t mean it is always the answer, said Mainland. She believes that as much consideration should be given to crowdsourcing as to any other form of reporting.

“I think now more than ever, news organizations—media organizations—should be stepping in to do what they do best, which is ferret out what’s true and what’s real and to figure out what the true story is in a mass of information,” said Mainland.

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Katie Akagi and Stephanie Linning are students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Akagi, a former high-school teacher, holds a B.A. in feminist studies and can be contacted at katie.akagi@gmail.com.
A recent drama graduate of the University of Bristol in England, Linning can be reached at sjlinning@gmail.com or @stephlinning.