For Citizenside contributors, the ultimate reward is getting your content purchased and published, which is reflected in the site’s incentive system. A minority of members have climbed to the level of Certified Member, which gives them clearance to post their content directly to the site. Later, the content is verified as thoroughly as all the rest, but in breaking news events, the faster post can translate into dollars. This is particularly true in right-place-right-time scenarios, like a natural disaster, a protest, or a celebrity sighting.
The most lucrative example came from a video of John Galliano, the former head designer for Dior. In December 2010, a man with a cell phone at a Paris café recorded Galliano as he spiraled into a drunken, anti-Semitic rant, thus violating a French law against making public racial insults. The video went on Citizenside and sold all over the world, playing a part in Galliano’s eventual firing. Trippenbach declined to give the exact amount the contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, was paid, but said it was enough to “buy a really nice car.”
These methods are becoming the norm on citizen journalism platforms. NowPublic is another user-generated news site that uses points and showcases top scores, and is the largest participatory news network in the world, with over 85,000 contributors. It is owned by Clarity Media, which also owns Examiner.com, a locally focused site, which calls its citizen journalists “examiners,” and, unlike NowPublic, has an application process and pays approved contributors from a portion of its ad revenue. According to general manager Justin Jimenez, Examiner is looking into rolling out its own “game inspired” feedback system soon.
But the term du jour earlier this year, “gamification,” has already fallen out of favor. All of the people I spoke with were careful to not use the expression, with Trippenbach even saying he “loathed” the word. Ian Bogost, one of the co-authors of the 2010 book Newsgames, says that gamification has become an ambiguous buzzword. “It lets you imagine that there is this power that you have captured, and you can just sprinkle it on your website like fairy dust and then watch the magic happen,” he says.
Bogost is wary of game structures which aren’t chiefly concerned with the journalism’s quality. “We know that people respond to certain kinds of incentives, but we don’t know what that means for the product that comes out the other end,” he says. It’s not that he thinks those structures are useless. Bogost says that using points and badges could help with a site’s efficiency, and sees them as more “business analytics” than a game. But like many things in journalism now, Bogost says it’s hard to come to any definitive conclusions about what game design is going to mean to journalism in the long run. “Designing the future is happening by accident, and it’s a very reactive domain,” he says.