Google Glass, Meet Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism just got a whole lot more high-tech.

CNN is bringing iReport, their citizen journalism site that allows anyone to post content free of editing, fact-checking, and screening, to Google Glass. This will expand the opportunity for iReporters to submit video and photo coverage of breaking news as it happens.

As with all other content on iReport, CNN can choose to edit and ensure the validity and credibility of photos or videos taken with Google Glass, and broadcast them on their platforms during live, or recorded, news coverage.

Using user-generated content in order to stay on top of spot news is nothing exclusive to CNN, of course. In times of immediate breaking news, especially during times of emergency (natural disaster, security concerns, etc.) TV news outlets scramble to ask permission to use tweeted photos or call for their viewers to submit content to them.

The tragic events and subsequent investigation of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings became one of the first real explorations of the power of crowdsourced news during crises in the U.S. In Canada, a shooting in the food court at Toronto’s Eaton Centre demonstrated the same shift north of the border.

While news teams rush to gather their equipment or redirect their van to the scene of events, smartphones and tablets of those on scene were already capturing the action. The major broadcasters repurposed tweets, Instagram photos, and YouTube videos of the scene at the Marathon’s finish line. During the pursuit of the perpetrators in the following days, the news media relied on social media to get images of the police sweep. Andrew Kitzenberg had his photos of the manhunt shared across not only social media, but the television screens of major broadcasters. CNN even profiled Kitzenberg in the video below.

Even print sources tend to embed tweets and visuals shared via social media into streams, much like the New York Times did during the Boston Marathon explosions last year, according to Jennifer Preston, their first social media editor. According to Berkeley’s School of Journalism, a 2008 survey revealed that 58% of the U.S.’ top 100 newspaper’s websites accept user-generated photos. Those figures are obviously out of data with the pervasiveness of mobile recording devices in phones, tablets, and DLSR cameras.

The Promise of User-Generated Content

So what does all of this mean?

For the news consumer/junkie, the possibility of seeing first-hand video taken with Glass could provide valuable images. Crowdsourced journalism of this kind is especially popular among online communities of people who consume news heartily. Of course, how it differs from someone taking video or photos on their phone remains to be seen.

Image of Google Glass on model.

A promotional photo for Google Glass. Via ChromeSpot.com.

As the Columbia Journalism Review rightly identifies, user-generated content also empowers the “audience” as a whole, in giving a forum that allows individuals to highlight what issues are most important to them, and to paint a more comprehensive picture of current issues.

Meanwhile, CNN (and any other media outlets who end up following suit) will reap the benefits of getting access to important images for, in most cases, no costs. Creators of user-generated content usually offer their content to CNN for free, in exchange for the gratification of sharing their work with a large public audience and earning credibility in a community. This is the entire basis of iReport’s existence, and can also be seen in newspaper comments sections or in the “Kinja experience.”

On the other hand, with the competitive race to be the first to report on spot news and get information out there, more user-generated content increases the risk of the spread of misinformation. As many have accurately acknowledged, news sources on Twitter have increasingly taken a “throw everything on the wall and see what sticks approach” to providing live updates on breaking news.

Regardless of the promise, the opportunities will be difficult to measure until Glass becomes more pervasive. Currently, the membership of users is such a select and elite group, it may take a while to see Glass’ spot news coverage in action. Furthermore, there is a bit of a stigma surrounding Glass users, who are often nicknamed “Glassholes” by the likes of Wired, the Gawker network, Tech Times, and even The Guardian. One Explorer made national headlines in February when she alleged she was assaulted and robbed by “Google Glass haters.”

Access to locations where events are unfolding could also be problematic as more people begin to voice issues with the intrusiveness of the device.

The technology has created a recent stir regarding privacy in public places prompting multiple bans in San Francisco, a ground zero for a number of the big tech companies. While Google and its Explorers defend the recording capabilities of Glass as being no different than someone with a camera on their mobile phone, a stigma regarding wearable technology does exist. How Glass users will be able to avoid that stigma during high-pressure and emotional instances when breaking news is unfolding will likely become a story in and of itself.

Whether these notions of Glass and its users will hinder its role in citizen journalism should be an interesting development to follow.

Google Glass, for the curious, is a piece of wearable technology that a user mounts on his/her head like a pair of glasses. Instead of having lenses (though Google is in the process of developing prescription frames that will fit with lenses), there is a heads-up display that reflects into the wearer’s eye and allows the wearer to perform any number of tasks: snap a video or photo of what she’s seeing, check the weather, get directions, or even see what’s happening in Google+. It’s highly exclusive, available only to individuals who signed up for, and were selected, to take part in a pilot Explorer program*, and comes with a hefty price tag of around $1,500.

 *Update: TIME is reporting that anyone, not just those selected for the Explorer program, in the United States can now buy Google Glass at the aforementioned $1,500 price.

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