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Not paid to play: A case study of online community participants and the effects of non-monetary motivation upon public journalism
Unformatted Document Text:  NOT PAID TO PLAY 10 participants  from  complying  with  traditional  journalistic  standards  and  ethics,  such  as  verification,  accuracy,  and  the  appropriate  use  of  sources,  they  said.  Even  though   they  did  not  accept  journalistic  standards,  the  participants  said  that  they  wanted  the  legitimacy,  authority,  and  recognition  from  writing  for  a  local  news  organization.     In  several  cases,  the  community  participants  suggested  that  they  did  not   verify  information  for  their  columns  or  blog  posts  and  did  “very  little”  research  for  their  pieces.  “Usually  I  know  what  is  going  on,”  one  writer  said,  “and  I  write  what  is   in  my  head.”  Indeed,  he  said  that  his  role  as  an  unpaid  writer  influences  his  decision-­‐making  when  working  on  a  blog  post.  He  said  he  does  not  use  sources  when  writing  about  “facts”  in  his  column  and  has  sometimes  shared  his  column  with  sources  to   get  “feedback”  before  publishing  it.  Sharing  his  column  pre-­‐publication,  he  said,  is  something  that  he  would  not  have  done  as  a  paid  journalist:   If  I  was  [sic]  getting  paid  as  a  columnist,  I  would  never  do  that.  That’s  not  appropriate.  But  because  I  am  not  paid,  I  am  just  doing  this.  There  are  times  that  I  talk  to  [a  housing  authority  official  or  chief  of  police]  and  say,  ‘Here  is   what  I  am  doing.  See  anything  wrong?’  If  I  was  a  paid,  professional  journalist,  that’s  not  appropriate.     Despite  this  and  similar  stories  from  other  community  participants,  the   opinion  page  editor  insists  that  he  edits  community  columnists  heavily  for  language,   topic,  and  accuracy  just  as  he  would  for  newspaper  employees.  He  explains:    Corporate  policy  is  that  what  appears  on  the  opinion  page  goes  through  the   same  process  of  editing  and  verification  as  what  appears  on  the  news  page.  If  someone  is  factually  inaccurate,  we  will  run  a  correction.  That  also  means   that  we  don’t  use  unnamed  sources  and  that  goes  for  our  columnists,  too.    One  writer  in  particular  had  a  different  perspective  on  the  standards  of   publishing  in  the  local  newspaper.  “The  standards  aren’t  as  high,”  he  said.  “When  I  have  written  things  that  are  reviewed  by  people  who  have  a  much  tighter  filter  and  who  do  pay  people  to  write,  it  is  just  a  lot  harder  to  get  things  past  them.”  He  added   that  “with  the  [local  newspaper],  I  can  pretty  much  write  anything,  and  what  I  submit  is  exactly  what  gets  published,  or  pretty  close,  and  that,  I  don’t  think,  would   fly  in  a  lot  of  other  contexts.”     In  addition,  attribution  –  a  common  journalistic  standard  –  seemed  to  be   considered  a  luxury  when  writing  opinion  pieces,  participants  said.  One  columnist,   who  writes  monthly  for  the  newspaper  and  occasionally  blogs,  said  that  she  hadn’t  used  attribution  “in  a  while.”  Her  reason,  she  said,  was  because  “sometimes  the   month  comes  around  very  fast  and  I  turn  [the  column]  around  and  turn  it  in  and  I  am  off  to  the  next  thing  in  life.”     In  general,  participants  said,  the  use  of  sources  to  construct  their  pieces  was   also  rare.  In  one  example,  RI  shared  how  she  went  to  a  county  employee  for  information  on  affordable  housing  statistics.  She  did  not  tell  the  employee  that  the  information  was  for  publication,  nor  did  RI  attribute  where  she  received  the   information  in  her  blog  post.  Because  of  the  column’s  controversy,  RI  said  that  she  did  not  attribute  her  data  to  a  source  in  part  because  she  didn’t  want  the  get  the  

Authors: Gutsche Jr, Robert. and Arif, Rauf.
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background image
NOT PAID TO PLAY  10 
participants  from  complying  with  traditional  journalistic  standards  and  ethics,  such  
as  verification,  accuracy,  and  the  appropriate  use  of  sources,  they  said.  Even  though  
they  did  not  accept  journalistic  standards,  the  participants  said  that  they  wanted  the  
legitimacy,  authority,  and  recognition  from  writing  for  a  local  news  organization.    
In  several  cases,  the  community  participants  suggested  that  they  did  not  
verify  information  for  their  columns  or  blog  posts  and  did  “very  little”  research  for  
their  pieces.  “Usually  I  know  what  is  going  on,”  one  writer  said,  “and  I  write  what  is  
in  my  head.”  Indeed,  he  said  that  his  role  as  an  unpaid  writer  influences  his  decision-­‐
making  when  working  on  a  blog  post.  He  said  he  does  not  use  sources  when  writing  
about  “facts”  in  his  column  and  has  sometimes  shared  his  column  with  sources  to  
get  “feedback”  before  publishing  it.  Sharing  his  column  pre-­‐publication,  he  said,  is  
something  that  he  would  not  have  done  as  a  paid  journalist:  
If  I  was  [sic]  getting  paid  as  a  columnist,  I  would  never  do  that.  That’s  not  
appropriate.  But  because  I  am  not  paid,  I  am  just  doing  this.  There  are  times  
that  I  talk  to  [a  housing  authority  official  or  chief  of  police]  and  say,  ‘Here  is  
what  I  am  doing.  See  anything  wrong?’  If  I  was  a  paid,  professional  journalist,  
that’s  not  appropriate.  
 
Despite  this  and  similar  stories  from  other  community  participants,  the  
opinion  page  editor  insists  that  he  edits  community  columnists  heavily  for  language,  
topic,  and  accuracy  just  as  he  would  for  newspaper  employees.  He  explains:  
 
Corporate  policy  is  that  what  appears  on  the  opinion  page  goes  through  the  
same  process  of  editing  and  verification  as  what  appears  on  the  news  page.  If  
someone  is  factually  inaccurate,  we  will  run  a  correction.  That  also  means  
that  we  don’t  use  unnamed  sources  and  that  goes  for  our  columnists,  too.  
 
One  writer  in  particular  had  a  different  perspective  on  the  standards  of  
publishing  in  the  local  newspaper.  “The  standards  aren’t  as  high,”  he  said.  “When  I  
have  written  things  that  are  reviewed  by  people  who  have  a  much  tighter  filter  and  
who  do  pay  people  to  write,  it  is  just  a  lot  harder  to  get  things  past  them.”  He  added  
that  “with  the  [local  newspaper],  I  can  pretty  much  write  anything,  and  what  I  
submit  is  exactly  what  gets  published,  or  pretty  close,  and  that,  I  don’t  think,  would  
fly  in  a  lot  of  other  contexts.”  
 
In  addition,  attribution  –  a  common  journalistic  standard  –  seemed  to  be  
considered  a  luxury  when  writing  opinion  pieces,  participants  said.  One  columnist,  
who  writes  monthly  for  the  newspaper  and  occasionally  blogs,  said  that  she  hadn’t  
used  attribution  “in  a  while.”  Her  reason,  she  said,  was  because  “sometimes  the  
month  comes  around  very  fast  and  I  turn  [the  column]  around  and  turn  it  in  and  I  
am  off  to  the  next  thing  in  life.”    
In  general,  participants  said,  the  use  of  sources  to  construct  their  pieces  was  
also  rare.  In  one  example,  RI  shared  how  she  went  to  a  county  employee  for  
information  on  affordable  housing  statistics.  She  did  not  tell  the  employee  that  the  
information  was  for  publication,  nor  did  RI  attribute  where  she  received  the  
information  in  her  blog  post.  Because  of  the  column’s  controversy,  RI  said  that  she  
did  not  attribute  her  data  to  a  source  in  part  because  she  didn’t  want  the  get  the  


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