Archive for March, 2011

How to fact check user generated content

By Patrick Smith

Rachel Sterne, founder and CEO of GroundReport.com, and Robert Mackey, blogger for The New York Times’ Lede Blog, discuss how they determine the credibility of news reports contributed online by unknown or anonymous users.

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Help fund citizen journalism in Libya

By Patrick Smith

American journalist Rachel Anderson is looking to equip libyan youth with the tools  they need to become more effective citizen journalists. She was embedded with Libyan youth throughout Febrary and March and now needs to raise $30,000 to train classes of 15 young people essential reporting skills and how to share their stories with the world through the web.

She is working alongside Small World News, a group specialised in training citizen journalists, who say their project in Libya aims to help people to “report on the revolution around them. The group functions as a make-shift newsroom, responsible for finding, filming and editing original stories. The goal is to create a self-sustaining citizen journalist movement that continues reporting after Anderson and other Western journalists leave Libya.”

If you would like to contribute to the cloud-funded project click here.

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A window on Africa

By Patrick Smith

In vast countries like Nigeria the mainstream press doesn’t always have the kind of penetration into all areas that one might want. With government propaganda added into the mix, it’s often hard to get a picture of what is going on across the country. Citizen journalism can play an important role in plugging this gap. Shutterfeeds aims to do just that.

This is Nigeria’s first user generated photo agency. Covering everything from politics to fashion it has something to offer everyone. People in villages largely cut off from life in the rest of Nigeria are able to tell their stories though that most accessible medium, the photo.

With corruption and propaganda still a big problem in Nigeria Shutterfeeds aims to “decipher what is propaganda and what is not, providing alternative individualistic news sources”. With elections just around the corner the fledgling agency could play an important role in exposing any cases of violence or vote rigging that might arise.

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Where people comment on news sites

By Alex Webb

Following the survey I launched yesterday, here is a bubble diagram of where people last commented on news. Most people who took part were journalism students and the sample was small, but it gives an interesting snapshop of how people comment online. I asked participants where they had commented on a news story in the past six months, if at all.
The websites where people comment

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Flipping exciting: the iPad Twitter magazine

By Alex Webb

I haven’t got an iPad, but, like any self-respecting Apple fan, I want one. Sorry – “I want never gets” – I would like one.

One of the reasons is this, Flipboard. It’s an app which draws all the articles, webpages and photos your friends link to on Facebook and Twitter, then automatically compiles them into an iPad-style magazine.

Obviously the downside of not having an iPad yet is that I haven’t been able to get to grips with the app first-hand. Nonetheless, some of its implications could be pretty interesting. It seems clear that it will make those who have it far more selective in whom they follow on Twitter – they will not want their Flipboard to be filled with the dross that some friends post. I do not imagine that every Twitter user will have Flipboard, but for those that do, there will surely be a polarisation of interest groups: there is no point in clogging up your Flipboard with fields in which you’re not interested, after all.

It is a pertinent paradigm of where journalism might head: a combination of the user-generated and professional journalism, crystallising what Twitter already does.

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Celebrity generated content

Katy Perry caused a storm on Twitter (photo: Michael @ NW Lens)

Emily Fairbairn

There’s a lot of scaremongering that goes on about user generated content replacing ‘real’ journalism.  With so many people doing it for free, will we all be out of a job in a few years? cry frightened journalism students. Well no, because amateurs will never have the skills, training and resources of professionals, so they will never replace them.  Kate Dubinski has written a brilliant post on the subject over at the London Free Press, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

“The stuff we’re paid to do is — in part because we’re paid to do it — as professional, accurate and removed of bias as we can possibly make it,” she argues.

“You pick up the paper, you read a story online, and you (should) know it’s been run through several filters before it got to you.  Those filters have hopefully caught typos, glaring holes in logic, bias, and all the rest of the stuff that makes you “trust” us.’

But this is not to say that user generated content is not of terrific importance in modern news-gathering. Crucially, Dubinski adds that “citizen journalists become sources for professional journalists, not necessarily competition.”

And what sources they are. As this blog has previously noted, citizen journalists are the eyes on the ground as humanity suffers earthquakes, genocide, revolution, tsunami. They are the ones who catch the police out if they overstep the mark, and they are the ones who go where the mainstream media can’t. Their videos, tweets and testimonies are gold-dust to a professional journalist,  providing detail, colour and expertise which could not come from anywhere else.

But UGC does far more than simply improve stories that old-school journalists would always have reported on anyway.  In fact, certain ‘users’ create stories by the mere act of ‘generating content’. I am of course, talking about celebs. How often do you see a story which is based entirely on what some tabloid favorite has said on Twitter?  Over at my beloved Mail Online today, you will see that the top story is ‘Katy Perry in Twitter Feud with Calvin Harris over tour‘. The journalist doesn’t even need to do any work; a quick look at Twitter sees the entire story unfolding neatly all by itself, unobstructed by secrecy or worse, PR.

And it doesn’t even need to be the content of what the celebrities are tweeting. When George Michael and Charlie Sheen joined Twitter, the mere fact that they had done so made headline news.

Social media, crowd sourcing, citizen journalism, user generated content; all are undeniably amazing sources. Far from threatening professional journalists, UGC has made their life easier. Stories are there: created, or found, by someone else. Just as citizen journalists need the mainstream media to publicise their content if it is ever to reach the masses, so the mainstream media increasingly takes its stories from UGC. It’s a two-way relationship which is mutually beneficial.

But journalists must not let UGC make them lazy. Reporting on what a famous person says on Twitter is not particularly interesting; any readers who are interested in said celebrity probably follow them anyway, so reporting two hours later on a public online exchange is basically redundant. Quoting Twitter users, many hiding behind a veil of online anonymity, is no substitute to meeting real people and talking to them (Metro I’m looking at you.) As Dubinski says, journalists are the gatekeepers, and they must select, filter and give an intelligent platform to the UGC that really needs to be seen.

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Where did you last comment on news?

By Alex Webb
Please add the name if there is another website on which you have commented

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