While talking to an editor at a newspaper that had made a splash with a crowdsourced investigative story a couple years ago, I remember the subject of payment coming up, to which she made an interesting point. The citizens who contribute their time and effort have a personal interest in the story and do it because they want to help the paper – this is a citizenry interacting with its hometown newspaper for the betterment of the community and for the good of democracy. It was a valid point. After all, if they paid their citizens, they wouldn’t just be citizens anymore, they’d be employees.
News organizations have long been excused from digital sharecropping, a label that has been attached to crowdsourced businesses that exploit free labor from the public without offering compensation. Perhaps, media entities benefit from the altruistic and democratic nature of information sharing. The millions of Internet users that voluntarily put content out for free are more than a testament to that.
But where should the line be drawn? When should news organizations and media conglomerates begin to have to start paying for utilizing the time and resources of their volunteer contributors while holding complete ownership of the product – or at the very least, making revenue off of an individual’s product? Continue reading