German Tabloid Bild to Unleash a Mighty Legion of Citizen Journos With Help From Lidl
Yesterday we posted on how ‘Citizen Journalism’ (CJ), the darling of neophyte media pundits the world over, will receive a shot in the arm from the Huffington Post, who are now flush with VC money and keen to plough a fair sum into user-generated reporting initiatives. Those of you who followed the US elections may remember that the HuffPost’s CJ reporter Mayhill Fowler broke the story of Barack Obama’s rare slip-up on the campaign trail when he said that small-town Pennsylvanians can “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion” at a Democrat campaign fund-raiser.
So far, so progressive. But it was only going to be a matter of time before the big beasts of the corporate news jungle latched onto the fact that if you’re able to stuff your rag/mag/TV broadcast/website/cloud computing radiophonic social network hub (delete as applicable) with passable quality, free user-generated content, you can sack even more members of that cash-sucking class called “professional journalists,” and siphon off more cash for your shareholders.
And so it came to pass. Today, the Associated Press reports on how the historically unscrupulous German tabloid Bild (check out our feature stories about German undercover journalist Günter Wallraff in BAD IDEA: The Anthology for a primer) has struck a deal with the German mega-grocer Lidl to sell a €69.99 (approx £60) digital picture/video camera – pictured left – with a USB cable and software to enable “reader-reporters” to upload material to the Bild website.
Bild managing editor Michael Paustian told AP reporter Patrick McGroarty, “We think it is an advance for journalism.” Naturally, it’s unlikely that these citizen reporters will be able to recoup their investment in the camera with actual payment though; Bild spokesman Tobias Froehlich said although no decision had been made on paying contributors, there was likely to be a competition cash prize for the best weekly entries. Like, wow.
His other comments (“It’s not about exclusivity”) suggest the “reader-reporters” who upload photo and video content to the Bild website will primarily be rewarded by the “exposure” of having their work published online, revealing Bild’s true agenda: amateurise journalistic content, slash editorial budgets to the bone, and offer the dumb enthusiasts/low level egotists a ridiculously small carrot for their labours. Then watch the profits rain down.
If Bild succeed – and other Western newspapers will be following this story with slavering interest – expect this cheap camera/amateur journalist shill game to rolled out in news media outlets all over the world. But in the coming years, as the novelty of the interactive possibilities of new and affordable technology wears off, is it reasonable to expect web users to continue to offer their labour for free?
It seems more than a little outrageous that a newspaper with a circulation of over 3 million, and ad revenues to match, expects them to fill its print/website pages for absolutely nothing (even a free copy of the paper their story runs in). Even for the most naive of amateur CJ’s, the lack of any realistic prospect of payment is discouraging.
Surely it can’t be long before a smart cookie news organisation/start-up wakes up to idea that the nascent CJ market, along with its disenfranchised constituents – and therefore the entire Internet playing field for news media, period – might be ripe for the plucking; all they would have to do is offer CJ’s a small fee linked to the traffic generated by the photo/video/article on their site in exchange for exclusivity. In doing so, they could clip the wings of flabby dinosaur news brands like Bild by stealing all their best CJ reporters, as well as the attentions of every other aspiring CJ, and assert themselves as one of the dominant news media outlets of the coming decade.