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CNN iReport Superstar Tells All — Maybe Too Much

I contacted Grayson Daughters, an Atlanta area user content producer, because I wanted to learn more about her success at getting stuff placed at CNN’s  She is listed as a CNN iReport Superstar. One piece on Georgia politics got more than Grayson Daughters10,000 views and got the CNN stamp of approval. What Daughters tells me in the IM interview below will probably outrage traditional journalists and make CNN suspect, even though it bills itself as unedited, unfiltered news. Although the traditional journalist are sure to take umbrage at what she says, some of her criticism of the mainstream media will be hard to ignore.

Leonard Witt: So how should I title this blog post, Confessions of a CNN iReporter, Anatomy of a CNN iReporter … or let’s see as we move on through the interview? Your thoughts? And I am posting them.
Grayson Daughters: What can iReport do for you? something like that.

Witt: Interesting, why that approach?
Daughters: It’s an amazing tool that’s free for anyone to use. And it works well, meaning it doesn’t crash every time you use it.

Witt: Free? Is anything really free? What’s in it for CNN? Do you know?.
Daughters: CNN gets a constant stream of GLOBAL, free content via iReport. Who needs reporters now? And what does CNN or any news entity need to do? Feed the video beast is what they need to do. Why not feed it for free!?

Witt: So you get no compensation, neither for your uploads nor for you the nice things you are saying about CNN and iReport.
Daughters: They get me and my message and news OUT there, as they say. They can do the same for, say, one’s (paying) clients message too! And I think they said they were going to send me a free tee shirt too.

Witt: Tell me more about, “They can do the same for, say, one’s (paying) clients message too!”
Daughters: Well, it’s really the same ole, same old PR business model, just applied to a new platform. It’s more earned media. Of course one’s client must have a strong, newsworthy message. You pimp what someone else has got to “the media.”

Put it on iReport in a concise, viewable way, and if the folk on the CNN pan-online properties side of the business like it, they’ll make it available across all their online properties. It could even end up on the broadcast platform too. That’s what I call a great “earned media” hit for one’s clients.

But hey, just cut out the middle man, and do it yourself. Anyone can is what I’m mostly saying. It’s still vetted by a human, your “stuff” for newsworthiness.

Witt: So Grayson are you saying you are uploading stealth PR to iReport, which eventually works its way onto CNN proper?
Daughters: Let’s just say I’ve done it before. But I have good clients who are making news too. There’s nothing stealthy about it really. The one time I did use iReport for someone else’s purposes, I fully disclosed everything to the person at CNN.

Mostly I use it just to put out items I think are of personal interest though. Just see if anyone likes ‘em too. Or not. It’s all in the numbers of views.

Witt: So CNN knows that some of the folks you are uploading for CNN are your clients?
Daughters: Yes. They asked. I told. But again, I just did it once. As a test of the system really. Who’s to say they will use something of mine ever again? That’s their call, not mine.

I wasn’t even on the payroll for this particular client at the time… when I “tested the system” that is.

Witt: Of course, you know when this gets posted it could well turn into a ethical firestorm of controversy. It is the fear of every mainstream news organization.
Daughters: PR is always the fox in the media hen house! Nothing’s really changed about that. Where do you think AP gets most of their material? From press releases sent by PR agencies. Shame really. The public has always been duped by PR spin and MSM’s use of it.

Witt: Tell more about that.
Daughters: I think the whole Scott McClellan book says more than I ever could! I’m not really a professional PR person. I’m more of a citizen journalist style of promoter. I don’t work in PR. Never have. Never will. But I like newsworthy items as much as the next person. And I like to promote them. If I’m working with someone who happens to be generating some interesting news, why not put it on iReport?

The way, say, the AP is using Twitter, for instance, is really the most irksome, IMHO.

They wish to sue bloggers who quote their (dull, PR-generated material) in blog posts, yet push their news product out via platforms like Twitter. I must assume they do the same with iReport. But that’s just a huge assumption. Again, anyone can use iReport, under just about any guise, if they chose to be less than transparent.

I make it perfectly clear in my iReport bio that I have a media company, BTW.

Witt: Well, let’s use this as an example. You used to work for Matt Towery who runs — do you still? But just the other day you posted a spot on iReport with him saying Georgia is in play for both Obama and McCain. More than 10,000 people viewed it. Does it make a difference to them that you were and may still be in his employ?
Daughters: CNN asked if I was working for InsiderAdvantage (Towery is the CEO). I told them that I had in the past, but was no longer on the payroll. Doesn’t mean we all can’t still do business!

Witt: Explain that a little more.
Daughters: And for the record, I was NOT on the IA payroll when I posted Matt Towery’s poll promo about the south. I just felt it was compelling and interesting, and it was. Ten thousand viewers in 24 hours agreed with me.

Towery does some interesting polling. Polling though as we all know, is not a terribly accurate science, but it does reflect the mood of the public on any given day about something. In this case, Presidential politics.

Witt: Okay, but you did say that you might be working for someone and posting their messages. All journalism ethical codes would say that’s totally taboo. Totally. No equivocation. What’s your response to that?
Daughters: If I WAS working for someone, and I chose to put THEIR material on iReport, I would make that crystal clear. Front and center. But that’s just me. Again, we’re dealing with USER-generated content. The user can generate whatever they want to. It’s now up to the consumer to decide if they want to USE that media. Once you get into the user-generated realm, journalism ethics are going to very hard to apply to every user out there.

Witt: So what if the government or major corporation slipped in a stealth message would that be up to the consumers to decide if it were bona fide — and how would they know?
Daughters: Haven’t they been doing that since time began??!!!! What do you think Charlie Gibson cranks out every night?!

The Iraq War comes to mind…They do it all the time. The whole “war media experts” out there pimping for the Penatgon on all the big networks comes to mind.

They ask for transparency out of me for user-generated content, you’d think they’d ask the same of Pentagon “experts.”

Witt: Perhaps, but no one was okay with it and the best journalists, at least in theory, try to ferret out the false messages for the public. Are you saying since the journalists have been less than perfect, let’s dump them and go straight to the public?

Daughters: The public can put out their own messages right back too now. Journalists should never stop being journalists. It’s the management of the material and the content that’s suspect. Journalists do what no one else does. And they do it with constitutional protection. As a user of an info medium, the user has the same constitutional protection too. I assume!

Witt: You say, it’s the management of the material and the content that’s suspect. But your cozy relationship with some of your subjects make that content even more suspect. Who’s going to manage that?
Daughters: Disclosing relationships is key. I have no problem with that. Tell the public; let the public decide if it’s “valid” or not. If a network is going to allow an expert to talk about the war in Iraq, let them first tell the people who are listening who that expert is receiving a paycheck from.

People are always going to lie about their relationships though. Journalists’ stock in trade ARE their relationships with people. Specifically, people in power.

Relationships = content. For a PR person, for a journalist, for a citizen journalist too.

Witt: However, the relationship between a real journalist and a subject should be much different than the relationship between a PR person and a client. You seem to be okay with blurring that distinction.
Daughters: Again, it comes down to newsworthiness and the news cycle. No need to shoot the messenger if the news is judged by someone to be “good.” Journalists and PR people have always worked hand in hand. Certainly in the broadcast biz. Not having worked in print, I can’t really say what goes on there.

Witt: How many posts have you uploaded to iReport and how many have elevated to CNN proper?
Daughters: Of the nine iReports (video mostly in my case) I’ve posted, two have gone on to CNN. Once they are “released” to CNN platforms, which is a vetting process, then they get a little “CNN” stamp on them. So, less than 25%.

One was the Matt Towery poll promo, and the other was Atlanta tornado coverage. Both were relevant to CNN’s 24-hour news cycle. Others were more feature-oriented.

Witt: Actually I really liked your tornado coverage, it was better than CNN itself had done in its own backyard. However, most professional journalists I know will be appalled by parts of what you have said here. Their biggest fear is that the traditional journalism ethical codes like that of the Society of Professional Journalists will be compromised or abandoned by opening the trusted brands to amateurs who might not be aware of or care about these ethical codes. Does it worry you?
Daughters: Does it keep me awake at night? No. But do I think about the ethics involved? Often. But there are many genies out of the bottle because of technology now. Ethical ones too. So I don’t spend time on how to get the genie back in the bottle, rather… what are we going to make him do for us now that he’s out!

Witt: Thanks Grayson for your frankness and transparency here. Let’s see what the rest of the world thinks.

5 Responses to “CNN iReport Superstar Tells All — Maybe Too Much”

  1. Howard Owens Says:

    Good post.

    What she’s really exposing is the Walter Lippmann-inspired brand of journalism that remains at the core of how way too many reporters operate — just take the official release, the official news, the pronouncement of somebody official or newsworthy, and present it with the public. Period.

    Lippmann’s journalism leaves aside context, validity, interpretation and any questioning as to the correctness or authenticity of the information.

    The Pentagon experts got through because most journalists don’t consider it their job to question the authenticity of the source. “We are we to judge?” is the creed here. “We just report. We can’t be held responsible for the context of the facts.”

    It will be pure hypocrisy for journalists to get their panties in a wad over her statements.

  2. Rhonda R Shearer Says:

    WOW. Thanks for this post.

    No matter how many times, we see this sort of corruption during the MsM investigations that we do at, it never fails to takes my breathe away.

    Have you complained to CNN or ask for their comment ?

    Confrontation and asking for corrections as well as giving the accused an opportunity to respond –in this case CNN– before publication are standard in our investigation play book.

  3. anna Says:

    Jesus F. Christ.
    I will say that locally, the people pushing ‘we media’ the hardest are remarkably cagey about their vested interests.

    And I second Rhonda’s suggestion to contact CNN and get their response.

  4. selah Says:

    it’s good to note that iReport kicked off a trend (such as Fox’s clever copy “ureport” hehe..) of a way in for amateur and pro-am reporters.

    also to note is that Grayson and others can now say that their coverage has appeared on CNN’s website and perhaps even on-air – quite a nice CV/resume add.

    fyi, there is actually a separate site that is distinct from, and the vetting is done by individuals who call iReporters and get the backstory, verify that the photo or video is actually theirs, and so on.

  5. Anna Says:

    Just ran across this on an old MediaShift post -
    Video blog producer Grayson Hurst Daughters noted that she had written a pro-Wal-Mart editorial that was picked up by a flog in Georgia. She told Edelman to remove the link, and said “they were welcome to put my editorial back on the Georgia Families For Wal-Mart site — once it became ‘more transparent.’” As for taking a look at the dark side of life, she wrote: “It’s good to take a look, while we can, at just what the tarty face of hard-core astroturfing looks like, just so we’ll recognize the expensive trash when we stumble into it again. And we will.”