QIT#9 Reader empowerment beyond content

This one really brings the incoherency of the QIT series to a new level. So please, bear with me:

I’ve been hearing a lot of debate about how news organisations need to re-engage with their readers and, for the most part, this seems to focus on content creation.

There is talk about promoting “citizen journalism”, using “UGC”, releasing APIs for developers, etc. etc.

It’s all good stuff. But there is no denying that those who volunteer time and effort to create news-worthy content or applications are a tiny minority.

Most people just want to be told what the news is by people who are employed to know.

Does that mean those who create want to engage more than those who do not? I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Perhaps it’s just that others have time and skill barriers that stop them. Or they don’t really see how such engagement would benefit them.

I’m always stunned by how popular polls on news websites are. They almost always do well, perhaps because of their low barrier to entry: just one or two clicks and you’ve contributed.

The frustrating thing is that most of these polls are – beyond capturing a mood – utterly futile.

Readers may overwhelmingly vote that the Prime Minister should resign, but that poll is unlikely to have much influence on Gordon’s decision to bow out.

To look at it in the more negative light, you could argue such polls do little more than reinforce the idea that news organisations pay lip service to engagement, but don’t really want to empower their readers in any meaningful way.

So, what if polls were devised to empower? What if, at the end of the vote, the majority will of the readers was enacted? What message would that send out? What should the questions be?