News outlets are fascinated with the news business, so quite a few stories have been flying around the last few days about the Gannett newspaper chain's decision to use citizen journalists.
Writes the Washington Post, for example:
Gannett is attempting to grab some of the Internet mojo of blogs, community e-mail groups and other ground-up news sources to bring back readers and fundamentally change the idea of what newspapers have been for more than a century. . . .
The most intriguing aspect of Gannett's plan is the inclusion of non-journalists in the process, drawing on specific expertise that many journalists do not have. In a test at Gannett's newspaper in Fort Myers, Fla., the News-Press, from readers such as retired engineers, accountants and other experts was solicited to examine documents and determine why it cost so much to connect new homes to water and sewer lines. The newspaper compiled the data and wrote a number of reader-assisted articles. As a result, fees were cut and an official resigned.
It's all quite reminiscent of Friedrich Hayek's articulation of how the price system turns local knowledge into a useful form and thus better organizes human action than any centrally planned system.
The blogosphere (writ large) can and often does surface relevant knowledge better than any group of reporters, no matter how smart or dedicated. Gannett is wise to recognize this and incorporate superior local knowledge-gathering into its business model.