User generated news?

Ars Technica is milling the prospect of having more user contributed stories on their front page. Currently, the option to only have Ars writers publish stories on the front page is leading by a slim margin, but it is only a plurality rather than a majority. News organizations clearly see their users as exploitable sources of free content, but the question is how far to go with it. CNN’s most ambitious move towards user generated content is iCNN, where the content occasionally gets used as part of CNN’s main coverage. Other sources, such as the Huffington Post, rely almost entirely on user generated content and can be, as in the case of the Huffington Post, quite successful from it.

The debate is between keeping content produced strictly by professionals, thus theoretically ensuring quality and accuracy, or to open the floodgates to a wealth of free content, but at the risk of lower quality and potentially false information. The former maintains integrity, and still allows for profits. There is certainly a value in being a reliable source. The latter approach, to varying degrees, discards integrity in the name of low effort and high profits. Ultimately, unless one stops being profitable in the future, it is not likely that either will completely win out over the other. Sites will continue to incorporate user generated content at iCNN levels, Huffington Post levels or eschew it entirely. But user generated content is not about to go away, nor is it going to pervade all news sources. The New York Times, for instance, is not likely to have user generated articles anytime soon. Instead, their will be a dual existence, and news consumers will be the better for the wealth of options.

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