Citizen Media Makers – at CES

January 5, 2011

I get it. Anyone who has $99 and a dream can buy a Flip Cam and go make media.

It might be of high enough quality to pass muster at any one of a number of broadcast networks. It might even make the front page of a daily newspaper. And it definitely can fly unabashed on the Web. But what do you get as a company, a content consumer, as a nation yearning to be informed, when you let the untrained tell you what’s happening around you?

That thought occurred to me anew this week as I found myself hip-deep in bloggers and citizen reporters who fancy themselves skilled enough to act as professional journalists at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

While I jostled my way to get in front of representatives from a variety of international tech firms, these whipper snappers downed beverages from the open bar and gobbled food from the plentiful buffet tables. Then they plunked themselves down wherever they saw fit to create a blog post about their experience.

Isn’t that what I’m doing right now? Sure. So what’s wrong with that? I’ll let you know.

As a 21-year veteran of traditional journalism; and a pro within the electronic media field, I definitely have something to say on the issue of letting citizen reporters into your event. Here are my top two reasons for CEA and other professional trade show operators to tighten their credentialing process. Tell me if you feel differently.

1 – You drive down the quality of the media being shared

I’m not saying anything about resolution or writing quality – many amateur media makers are skilled in putting together sentences and operating high-end (and even low-end) equipment to capture images and audio. I’m saying you lose a professional aspect to the insight and analysis a professional journalist brings to the table.

I realize that Sharper Image is a licensed name on a bunch of products created in Asia and I can bring that knowledge to my report on the state of the industry in the United States. But the average joe blogger won’t have that information or have the skills/experience necessary to dig a little deeper so he can share this with the general public.

2 – You lessen the value of the show for exhibitors

In my mind, CES is starting to come back after a few horrendous years. The bottom line might say different, but last year and the year before, the show floor was slow and uninspiring for someone who has covered the industry for decades. But you still had hordes of media people buzzing around the booths with their hands out for samples, eager to put up a Qik video or take some shots for sharing on Flikr.

Were I an exhibitor, I could not say no to any exposure. Who’s to say right now that a random blog post with a photo of my product won’t drive sales? But the reality is that business is a game of plusses and minuses. If you give away all your samples to folks who are happy to score a free phone charger, a set of speakers, a waterproof video camera or some other $50-200 item, how many will you have left to share with folks who are going to really deliver your product to readers?

To a certain degree, you need to have the product in your hand for a few weeks to do a fair evaluation of it. As exhibitors become more savvy – and I hope they do – I think they’ll be saving their money by not handing out product to anyone who doesn’t have a following and a substantial, qualified audience. It just makes financial sense…and you’re doing them a disservice if you allow unqualified reporters into the event in the numbers we’ve seen over the past four years.

So, take a look at how you’re doing the onsite press registration. Talk to exhibitors and see if they’re really happy with the quality of the coverage they’ve received relative to the expense they’ve incurred. Then tell me that everyone is a journalist.