When pitched to do a story on Servio, a company that crowdsources tasks for its clients, Adam Penenberg decided to — wait for it — crowdsource the reporting and writing. He assigned 20 questions to Servio workers and even asked a Servio freelancer to contact media advisers (including Poynter’s Kelly McBride) to see if this would be considered unethical. (The answer: not if he tried to account for bias and was upfront with his readers about what he was doing.) Penenberg writes that he asked for “boilerplate” material, such as interviewing the founders and freelancers, checking out the company’s revenue and assessing the competition. How did they do?
Basic facts were accurate; anything that required interpretation, however, was ripe for abuse. They simply avoided the questions I submitted that asked them to describe the company’s greatest weaknesses and to critique its competitors, and I never did find out what the company’s revenues were. Anything having to do with the company’s cofounders Jordan Ritter and Alex Edelstein was painfully fawning.
Judge for yourself the quality of the story they wrote, which he says is “roughly akin to an assignment filed by a first-year journalism student in college.”