This Story’s a Mess—Can We Publish It? Sure, Call It Crowdsourcing.

By Jack Limpert

The Washington Post’s Weekend section features a 12-page cover story, “40 Eats—Dishes Every Washingtonian Must Try,” and in two places it explains how they decided on the 40 winners.

“Readers pointed the way, via e-mail and Twitter…

“Also weighing in this year were some of the city’s notable food lovers…

“Editors and reporters then whittle down the list in an informal vote. Because newspapering isn’t a democracy, it doesn’t matter how many effusive or pleading e-mails we receive for a dish.

“Crowdsourcing the area’s best dishes reveals much about our dining habits.”

A new magic word for service journalism: crowdsourcing. Stop with all this talk about surveys—find some tweets and e-mails. Expertise? Don’t let it complicate things. Fairness? Come on, this isn’t a court of law.

To think that at some publications they spend lots of money on surveys and many weeks of reporting trying to help readers find, say, the area’s best doctors or the city’s best restaurants. Wired magazine way back in 2006 explained how it’s now done:

“Simply defined, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call.”

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