On my way to work this morning, I came across an item in MediaWeek talking about how CNN is planning to inaugurate a substantial citizen journalism project in the virtual world Second Life.
The idea is that CNN will distribute kits to Second Life residents that will make it possible for them to "transmit copy and photos" back to the network, which could, presumably, run the stories or images on its Web site.
Further, CNN journalists will hold weekly "news meetings" geared toward helping these would-be reporters learn what makes a good story: how to write, how to report, and so on. Even Larry King is said to be involved in the effort.
Essentially, as MediaWeek put it, "CNN will rely on Second Life residents to do all the (reporting) legwork."
It's an interesting concept, but I'm pretty dubious.
The biggest problem, it seems to me, is that CNN is going to be asking all these residents to compete directly with a slew of very well-established Second Life bloggers and reporters from sites like New World Notes, Second Life Insider, SLNN, Metaverse Messenger, and so on. All those sites do regular reporting on the in-world goings-on already, covering a lot of ground and establishing good reputations along the way.
I'm not sure how CNN expects the work that could be done by its citizen journalists to differ from what's already being reported. Frankly, I wonder if CNN is even aware that their effort will be going head-to-head with these established and respected sites.
The thing is, while there is a lot going on in Second Life, I wonder how much of the interesting stuff is escaping the notice of the existing bloggers, Reuters' Second Life reporter, yours truly for CNET News.com, or any of the many other people already keeping an eye on developments in the popular virtual world.
CNN seems to have told MediaWeek that it's not concerned about how much interesting in-world news there is, since "visitors to the online world include news-making personalities like Newt Gingrich."
What the network seems to have forgotten when it makes a point like that is that the SL bloggers are already all over events like Gingrich coming in-world.
For its part, CNN seems to be looking at this project as an addition to its "i-Reports" citizen journalism initiative, in which regular people can have a chance to let the world see things through their eyes.
Ultimately, I support the idea of more reporting of and in virtual worlds. But I really would like to see an organization like CNN have a better understanding of such environments before trying something like this. Because if I'm reading this correctly, it kind of feels like they are forgetting that there's already a lot of citizen journalists on the ground in Second Life and they're just expecting people are going to jump up and down with excitement because CNN's on the scene.
If they get this wrong, and if they don't offer something new and useful to the SL community, I daresay that will be exactly the opposite of what will happen.