You know, there really is something to this participatory journalism thing.
I turned on the Super Bowl for a few minutes Sunday night. (Not because I wanted to watch the wretched thing. My wife had asked me to tape the subsequent show, so I wanted to see how much time was left.) Turns out it was halftime, and Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson were performing the type of music I normally go out of my way to avoid.
Well, we all know what happened during that performance. And I saw it -- live. Er, I thought I saw it. I wasn't sure. The camera cut away so quickly that I couldn't really tell what'd happened.
So I did what any self-respecting Internet-junkie would do: I flipped open my laptop and hit the Web.
CNN had nothing. MSNBC had nothing. Neither did the New York Times, Washington Post or Chicago Tribune. Google News didn't say anything about it, either. I checked a bunch of other big-media sites but couldn't find any coverage.
I began to think I'd just been delusional. Then I checked Fark.
Fark.com -- a deranged mix of quirky news-article links, hilarious Photoshop antics, incestuous user comments, and a healthy dose of porn -- had the story. In my estimation, it'd been less than 15 minutes since the halftime show ended -- and Farkers were already talking about it.
The thing is, despite Fark's classically low signal-to-noise ratio, it wasn't all prepubescent blather. I daresay some of it was participatory journalism in action.
Read the archived comment thread to see the story unfold. There were first-person accounts of watching the event. There was background information. There was analysis and piecing-together of the facts. And, most importantly, there was an effort to distribute any and all raw information about the incident, mostly in the form of high-resolution TV-screen-grabs and video.
It was clear that all of this was fueled by a desire to get to the bottom of the story -- a desire not unlike that of a professional reporter.
Could this have been a glimpse of the future? Could a much more traditional news story be covered in the same way, given the right mix of a dedicated audience and enabling technology?
Yes, much of this interest was on a prurient level, and most people probably wouldn't share the same excitement about, say, a school board meeting. But who's to say there isn't a core niche devoted to, and willing to contribute to, every feasible news story?
Yes, nudity is taboo in the United States, and media have community standards to uphold. But shouldn't mature adult readers have access to it when it's newsworthy, as long as it's opt-in?
Yes, probably not a single one of the Fark contributors was actually at the Super Bowl, and all of their facts were collected from "mainstream" sources such as the CBS television broadcast. So what? Even two days later, this is STILL coverage you can't find at any big-media site. And who's to say a photo-phone-toting Super Bowl attendee couldn't have contributed?
Yes, traditional media outlets couldn't have posted a lot of those photos and video because of licensing, syndication privileges and all that. Ahh, maybe this is a limitation of traditional media?
UPDATE: It's come full circle.