Many of our early internal debates now seem quaint and odd. We would argue about the role of journalism—Does usergenerated content replace us? Does it make us irrelevant? Not at all, we’ve learned. Our role seems quite clear. We have a staff of expert data-driven reporters who are constantly creating high-quality digital documentaries to go alongside our radio reports or to illuminate a breaking news story. For most of our users, this is an occasional pastime.
For us pros, it’s our job. We do it all the time and, as a result, our stories are almost always better. Our training makes us better storytellers, better information-assimilators, and we have a richer understanding of the ethical requirements of balance. In short, our work is professionally made. We clearly label which stories full-time professionals wrote and which stories they didn’t, though in most cases it’s not necessary. The amateur stuff often seems, well, amateurish and, alas, most of it still suffers from strong bias. That said, at least a few times a year, some fifteen-year-old creates something far better than anything we’ve produced.’
Perhaps the greatest surprise is how helpful the site is on days with fast-breaking news. We often find that some user has already created a mini-documentary about the bank or official or country that is suddenly in the spotlight. If the user’s content is good enough, we highlight it. If it’s not quite up to our standards, we can work with the user to develop it. If no user has yet created a mini-documentary, we only have to wait a bit. By the end of the day, someone will.
We now have a full-service news site. Users can find out what happened and they can quickly get our take on the news. They can also access a rich trove of narratives to place the news in context. They can even create their own minidocumentaries to reflect on what the news means. If they think we’re biased, they can make an informed, data-based argument. If they think we’ve missed something, they can tell us what it is and see if we bite. Journalism has never been stronger.
Now all we have to do is figure out how to make some money off of this thing.