News websites should be more like American Idol

By Steve Outing

Inspiration for today’s tip hit me with one of those “d’uh!” (slap yourself on the head) moments. The short version is: Online news publishers can learn a lot from TV’s American Idol.

If you read yesterday’s tip, you’ll remember that I was advocating for a “pro-am” form of “citizen journalism.” Pure grassroots or user content, I think, has some serious weaknesses. But grassroots content guided by professional editing and oversight overcomes that, and presents good growth opportunities.

It hadn’t dawned on me that America Idol is a good model for journalism until I read this blog item by Andrea Useem at

As Useem explains, American Idol presents a model that can be applied to grassroots media or citizen journalism. The show gets good results because it combines a panel of professional judges (the uber-rude Simon Cowell and his nicer colleagues, who screen contestants, only letting through the best ones) and viewer voting (of the screened performers). The show might come up with very different — and potentially very bad — results if it was purely by popular vote.

American Idol is a gigantic success, by any standard. (My kids love it, and occasionally I can be hooked into watching for a few minutes.) The formula has worked to bring in a huge audience and get huge participation (voting), not to mention mega-bucks for the Fox network.

Think about that when you consider how to utilize the power of user content and participation. Think about taking a “pro-am” approach to user content and participation. I think that American Idol may just be pointing the way for news websites. D’uh!

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!