Tag Archives: user-generated content

User-generated content and journalism

11 Apr

A student at my old university contacted me last week with some questions for his dissertation, which will look at the impact of user-generated content on modern journalism. Here are my responses:

1. How would you define the term “citizen journalist”?

Firstly, I find it important to distinguish between ‘citizen reporting’ and ‘citizen journalism.’ For me, citizen reporting is much more common as it can, essentially, be done by any member of the public that happens to be in the right place at the right time. It could be as little as describing an event on Twitter or putting some pictures of a newsworthy story on a blog.

Journalism, however, requires more than this. In my opinion, journalism needs to be fair, extensive, sculpted and trustworthy. It requires more than just the act of saying what you see and is, clearly, usually reserved for those in the industry. However, that doesn’t mean that citizens can’t ‘do’ journalism. There are many blogs which do so. Guido Fawkes and Jason Cobb’s Onion Bag Blog spring to mind as very good examples of citizen journalism, although this is largely due to the skills of those individuals, which are essentially the same as a professionally trained journalist.

2. As a professional, How do you consider User-Generated Content (UGC) in terms of validity to journalism?

As somebody who works in the Community department of a national newspaper website, I am probably more likely that most to give a positive answer to this question! I think that user-generated content is a good potential source of stories, if there are the resources to dig them out, and I have personally seen stories that have been resulted from comments underneath a story.

3. Do you see UGC as an alternative to professional journalism?

No. The biggest difference between the two is authority. Professional journalism has it, UGC rarely does. Without a professional press, how would we know what we could trust and what we couldn’t? Of course, the professional press is not exactly without bias itself; The Guardian is well known as being a liberal newspaper and will clearly produce journalism backed by these values, but these are well-known and affect the telling of the story, rather than the truth of that particular story. Whilst UGC can crafted into journalism by a skilled professional, I can’t see it replacing or providing a serious threat to professional journalism alone.

4. Do you think that citizens can be trusted to make news without professional supervision?

It depends on the audience. I certainly can’t imagine a professional newspaper allowing to make the news without the watchful eye of a professional; after all, news stories provided by staff journalists need to be sub-edited before they will appear in the newspaper or on the website. If they are self-publishing on a blog or similar then sure, why not? However, this will most likely lack the authority of a professional news story and is unlikely to reach any significant audience.

5. Is UGC challenging professionals to start improving their content?

Yes. It has done since the beginning of journalism with reader letters, which often critique or correct news stories from the previous day. These days it is much more instantaneous with comments left underneath the article and part of my job involves passing on comments that may point out something like a spelling mistake, an incorrect fact or a complaint about the honesty of an article. So yes, the ability for readers to pick-up on problems so quickly means that there is more pressure on a journalist to get everything right, or face the wrath of the comments section!