I’ve been a little bit obsessed with ‘User Generated Content’ and news for over 8 years. In 2005, I remember watching BBC Breakfast, and wondering who, while eating their toast and cereal, would turn on their computers, and actually email the programme with a question or a picture of a sunset. (Remember, back in 2005, most of us didn’t have phones that we could use to send a quick email. Doing so required turning on our desktops, and waiting for it to ‘fire up’). To find out the answer to my question, BBC Breakfast were kind enough to let me sit in their Gallery back in December of 2005. I remember sitting next to the journalist who was responsible for monitoring the inbox and the SMS portal. He was the type of person we’d now call the Social Media editor. Even then, BBC Breakfast was receiving about 900 emails per broadcast and many more text messages. This was before YouTube or Facebook had taken hold and Twitter was yet to be born.
My interest continued and between 2007 and 2008 I ran a year long research project into UGC at the BBC with some very smart people at the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. Because I was young, ambitious, and slightly insane, there were six elements of the research (10 weeks of newsroom observations, a content analysis, an online survey, 12 focus groups, qualitative interviews with BBC managers and a nationally representative survey). From all of that, there was just one question that involved social media, and that was a question on the nationally representative survey that asked people how regularly they looked at online forums and message boards, including Facebook. The speed at which social media continues to transform newsgathering and audience interaction with news content still amazes me. But back in 2008, social media just wasn’t relevant enough to study any further.
Fast forward to now. I’m about to embark on another study of UGC. It’s called Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User Generated Content In TV News Output. It’s funded by the Tow Center at Columbia University and I’m working on the project with Sam Dubberley, who used to be News Editor at News Exchange, part of the European Broadcasting Union. As part of the research, we intend to interview over 60 journalists and managers from news organisations around the world. The research will provide information about how UGC is being integrated within newsrooms globally, so we can share examples of best practice and produce training and support materials for news organisations.
We’re interested in asking questions related to:
1) Workflow – how is UGC managed within the newsroom? Are there dedicated journalists or is responsibility shared across the newsroom?
2) Verification – does the newsroom have official verification standards before a piece of content is included in the output? Are staff required to undergo verification training?
3) Rights/Payment/Credit – are there guidelines associated with copyright? Does the newsroom pay for UGC? How is UGC credited on screen?
4) Ethics – are there ethical guidelines about using content from the profiles of people involved in tragic events? Would the newsroom ask the audience to go out and film during a breaking news event?
5) Staff Support – does the newsroom provide psychological support for staff viewing graphic content via social networks?
We’ll be in Marrakech next week at the News Xchange conference, and already have a number of interviews lined up. If you’re going to be there, or your boss is, please get in touch. We want to talk to as many people as possible, from as many newsrooms from as many countries as possible. We know there are parts of the world where there is very little integration of UGC in news broadcasts. This is mainly because of continued sceptism about its value rather than a lack of valuable content being shared in these regions. And we’re just as interested in researching the reasons why UGC isn’t being used, as we are investigating the newsrooms that have dedicated teams of journalists working with UGC every day.
We’re trying to share as much of the research as we can via blog posts and tweets. We’re using the hashtag #UGCTow if you’re interested in following along and contributing to the topic.
For those of you who know the brilliant Mitchell and Webb sketch, what do you reckon?