Over the course of several months, “citizen contributor” Patrick Corcoran steadfastly plugged his favorite Democratic congressional candidate, Mark Pera, on the Chicago Tribune’s user-generated, local reporting site, Triblocal.com. Corcoran wrote more than a dozen articles in support of Pera, and the Pera campaign happily linked to his stories on their site, reports Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader.
The doting stories didn’t raise an alarm online, but they did once they hit newsprint. Every week, a round up of the site’s best stories, Trib Local, is shipped with the Chicago Tribune. The January 10 print supplement’s leading headline—“Democrat Mark Pera picks up support”—caught the eye of the parents of a staffer for Pera’s rival campaign and Corcoran’s hand finally tipped: The “citizen contributor” was also the Pera campaign’s media spokesperson. Whoops.
Citizen journalism is a much-lauded fruit of internet democracy, as Adam Weinstein notes in Mother Jones, but the stories produced by these self-selected reporters are seldom vetted by editors or otherwise quality-controlled, spawning a briar patch of new media ethics questions. “The Triblocal.com kind of citizen journalism has at least one conspicuous defect,” writes Miner, “nothing gets written about unless somebody feels like doing the writing.”