Hearken: Bringing the Wisdom of Crowds to a Newsroom Near You
We’ve talked a lot this semester about journalists using the voice or suggestions from the public everyman to contribute to, and even guide, journalism. While many organizations look to their consumers, readers, listeners and viewers for story ideas or other information, one company is making that an easy-to-use reality for newsrooms and news organizations everywhere. That company is Hearken.
Hearken is used on news websites to invite the public into the newsroom. Audiences are asked to fill the void for story pitches as questions or story ideas, the user base then votes on their favorites to create what Hearken calls a “new story type” that is reactive, press-initiated and public-powered. They cultivate the public’s interest with “curiosity modules,” validate the interest with a voting module and satisfy the public’s interest through the production of the stories. The audience gets to participate in the journalism, the journalists get a feel for what the audience wants to see and the news outlets get a non-stop flow of story ideas and increased interactivity.
So, does Hearken work? According to a lot of reputable news organizations, like WBEZ in Chicago and Michigan Radio, among many others, it’s worth it. I tend to agree. If this tool was utilized in the correct setting, it could be invaluable for news organizations.
As we discussed in class and in the readings, there are a lot of factors that can make crowd-sourced information useless and confusing, like too much noise or a lack of participation. For Hearken, noise isn’t an issue because they don’t simply ask readers for stories they want to see, but they also count on voting results from the readers. So, if too many ideas are presented, it’s easy to find the most popular through the voting process. Lack of participation could be an issue, especially in smaller communities, but if you could get your readers used to the process, it could work in small environments as well.
One of the most intriguing ideas explained in the readings, which is a main part of Hearken, is the idea that, as it was explained in “The Wisdom of Crowds” by Jame Surowiecki: “Information isn’t in the hands of one person. It’s dispersed across many people. So relying on only your private information to make a decision guarantees that it will be less informed than it could be.” Hearken embraces that idea, even proposing a new form of news cycle. This new news cycle also illustrates the idea explained in the Nieman Reports article that states that journalists need to be comfortable with risk and abandon the idea that journalists have a “monopoly of truth.”
I think Hearken is certainly a sign of things to come in the future of journalism. Offering news organizations the opportunity to work with their audiences to crowd-source story ideas, and encouraging crowd participation to vote on which ideas are most newsworthy embraces the idea behind the Wisdom of Crowds. One single news organization can’t possibly have their finger on the pulse of each and every thing in their area. While story ideas from a few non-journalist members of the community might not make a lot of sense to follow, finding a consensus of what’s interesting and what isn’t from a large group can give the news outlets a good idea of what they should be covering.