Citizen Journalism Ground Rules

Here’s a tough question from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits Column:

Someone goes on a murder/suicide kick on Tuesday morning. Five dead including the killer. A newspaper starts covering the story online. The police haven’t released the suspect’s name yet, so the paper doesn’t print it. A reader thinks she has figured out who the killer is, and posts her hypothesis in the comments linked to the online story.

As it turns out, the reader is correct, but what are the implications of readers doing their own journalism on your story while they’re not playing by the same rules?

The Ventura County Star report (reg. req’d) has been updated as the story evolved, but check out the comments (174 right now) to see the citizen reporting – including responses to the speculation about the suspect’s ID.

Should every newspaper story have comments and trackbacks enabled? Sounds like fun to me. Of course, this is the same paper that recently chose to turn off comments after they became a breeding ground for flame wars and some hateful stuff. The paper turned comments back on after some adjustments that let them ban offensive IP addresses.

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