Tuesday, March 21, 2006

With youths rioting all over France in protest to the new "CPE" employment law, two French papers -- Liberation and Le Monde -- made the smart decision to solicit photos of the riots from readers on their Web sites. The galleries that resulted are pretty much what you'd expect: a handful of interesting, but amateurish, snapshots from around the country. In itself, hardly an impressive argument for the imminent rise of "citizen journalism."

Ah, but as some have noted, under the tag "CPE" on the popular photo-sharing site Flickr, you'll find over 1500 images from "citizen journalists" depicting the demonstrations. 1500. Clearly, the newspapers' galleries are comparatively sparse not because amateurs aren't taking pictures, but because they're just cutting out the middlemen. Why would Joe Photograph send his pictures to a newspaper for a crappy credit when he can publish them himself, exactly how he wants them displayed?

But 1500 photos is a lot to wade through to find good content, some point out. How do we get the best of the best? Could the newspaper do that?

Probably, but so can Flickr. If you sort the Flickr photos not by "most recent," but by "most interesting," you'll be presented with the cream of the crop, as determined by a mysterious algorithm that considers comments, traffic, and user behavior. Yes, a great photo editor might be able to select and polish with better flair than the Flickr crowd, but the top selections among the "most interesting" photos really are top-notch photojournalism: I see a number of lessons for news orgs in this case study, but among the biggest immediate takeaways for me is the importance of establishing presences in our online communities. Flickr is probably the most populous hangout you're going to find for amateur photographers. If someone at Le Monde or Liberation had maintained an active presence in that community (maybe a photo editor posting a photo-of-the-day?), the newspapers would have had an instant connection to hundreds of talented photogs, many of which might have been happy to share their work with the newspapers' audiences. If we're willing to explore working with our readers as partners, we should be willing to meet them where they are. Here's a related article from OJR.


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