User-generated content tends to carry a bad reputation within the digital sphere; those opposed to its presence in the information age reject UGC by claiming everyday citizens can’t (and shouldn’t) have authority over professionally trained journalists when it comes to online news content. In fact, the consensus among these naysayers is that user-generated online content is essentially killing the high-quality news content like that of, say, washingtonpost.com.
Why can’t we all just get along?
outside.in, a fairly new website that is built primarily upon user-generated content, and the venerable washingtonpost.com have bridged the divide with their recently announced partnership. By teaming up, the two sites aim to deliver the best of both worlds: local bloggers' content and mainstream, traditional journalism side-by-side on washingtonpost.com. The companies’ first step in the merging of these two online worlds is dubbed the "Buzz Map," and it is a way for washingtonpost.com to deliver hyper-localized content to its readership.
outside.in is a site that aggregates content from many news sources, including traditional media and individual users. But the site’s biggest source of news is local blog content. The company aggregates content from more than 3,000 local blogs across the United States. Its aim is to provide a means for users to explore their own neighborhoods from a better vantage point than traditional news content typically allows.
According to Rob Deeming, COO of outside.in, "With our site, you can get information about a mugging on a street corner two blocks from where you live, or road work that’s occurring a mile from your house. It’s stuff that large newspapers often won’t cover."
The site currently serves 63 cities and 11,217 neighborhoods in the U.S. and is organized around stories, neighbors, and places. Cities include Albuquerque, N.M., Boulder, Colo., Manhattan, N.Y., Raleigh, N.C., and St. Louis, Mo., among others.
While The Washington Post’s local coverage is certainly not remiss, this partnership is a way to complement the site’s existing local coverage by extending its voice beyond The Washington Post staff and out into the community. The Buzz Map, which is currently exclusive to washingtonpost.com, displays links to content of local bloggers in the D.C. area alongside washingtonpost.com’s content so that no content is compromised. Deeming explains, "If someone is writing about the new Nationals stadium that’s going up in D.C., we showcase our local bloggers' content on the stadium along with The Washington Post’s content, and then we feature an expandable map to show people exactly where it’s happening."
Bloggers flood outside.in with information about weekend bar specials, restaurant wait times, and detours around roadwork. And they do so authoritatively, because they frequent the bars, eat at the restaurants, and are forced to re-route their own ways to work as a result of a closed bridge. Deeming says, "Local bloggers know the scene so much better; we tend to consider them our real experts."
washingtonpost.com recognized the importance of endowing the everyday person with a voice that could be heard within his or her community. Jonathan Krim, assistant managing editor of washingtonpost.com, says, "We really think that having a conversation in the community is very important and, as much as possible, we would like to be a hub of that conversation. We hope our readers look to us as aggregators of local information, and outside.in gave us an opportunity to show what the buzz is all about from a local standpoint."
This partnership between washingtonpost.com and outside.in may be a turning point in the war between user-generated online content and mainstream online news content. washingtonpost.com has opened up its door and invited citizen journalism in. In doing so, it has provided a widely respected, highly trafficked arena from which the everyman can broadcast his voice ... and actually have a chance to be heard. "Local bloggers are an extra journalistic arm," Deeming says. "This partnership gives them the opportunity to get their content featured on washingtonpost.com, and that might not be something that could ordinarily happen."