atbwebb

A freelance journalist with an international outlook. I have worked for the likes of the BBC, Sunday Times and Bloomberg.

Homepage: http://smallislandwebb.wordpress.com

Who owns the content you contribute as a citizen journalist?

Not always you, it seems. CNN iReport, while being one of the best sites in terms of the user-generated content it publishes, also has some of the least favourable terms and conditions for those who submit their work to it. Look at this excerpt:

By submitting your material, for good and valuable consideration, the sufficiency and receipt of which you hereby acknowledge, you hereby grant to CNN and its affiliates a non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide license to edit, telecast, rerun, reproduce, use, create derivative works from, syndicate, license, print, sublicense, distribute and otherwise exhibit the materials you submit, or any portion thereof in any manner and in any medium or forum, whether now known or hereafter devised, without payment to you or any third party.”

If they sell content to other outlets, you will get a slice of the dough, but only a slice. Otherwise, you won’t see a bean, even if video footage you shot runs as headline news.

The other major citizen journalism hub, Demotix, has a far fairer remit. They say:

“Upload your news stories, images and video to Demotix, and we’ll broker your work to over 200 media buyers around the world”

This could go for anything between $50 and $3,000 for non-exclusive content, and for hundreds of thousands for exclusive content, they claim. Win.

So the moral is, if you’re a citizen journalist, be careful where you submit your content. CNN might have great cache, but your wallet will be no fatter at the end of a hard day’s reporting.

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‘If people knew about Twitter, there’d be no need for newspapers’ – UCL protest online guru, Jess Riches.

By Alex Webb

Twenty-year-old Jessica Riches is the voice behind @ucloccupation, the Twitter account which served as the voice for students occupying the University College London campus in protest at the surge in student fees. The account garnered more than 5,000 followers, and the second-year English student has since been hailed by the Guardian as a “Twitter guru” and addressed conferences on how to use Twitter.

Jessica Riches

In this interview, she explains how she fell into the role, how Twitter was used to report events first-hand and what role it can play in influencing opinion. She also recalls how she nearly had a breakdown when, mid-occupation, the main account was hacked by opponents and prank messages were posted.

Did you start with any sort of strategy?

Did you feel a lot of pressure? (Jess tells how a mistake she made led to the decision of the NUS President Aaron Porter to resign)

What sort of influence does Twitter have?

How much more reliable actually is Twitter as a primary news source?

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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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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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Japanese Tsunami – The Quakebook’s wave of voices

By Alex Webb

It started with a wave, which became a torrent, and the effects still haven’t been fully measured. The colossal tsunami that hit Japan earlier this month has had untold consequences, and another burgeoning wave of Twitter and internet users is seeking to recount them.

The book's cover

Twitter has really started to take off with the hashtag #quakebook, a project entirely generated by the online community to produce a book, all profits from which will go to the Japanese Red Cross. The 2:46 Quakebook project (so-named after the time the earthquake happened) is the brainchild of Twitter user @ourmaninabiko, a longtime British expat in Japan, and is conceived as a collection of images, personal accounts and reflections on the catastrophe.

“I’m not looking for windy poetic stuff, just honest stuff,” he wrote in a blogpost on 18 March. “Aim to write 250-300 words or so – equivalent to a short blog post (or one page of a book).”

From that initial seed, the idea grew into an online-coordinated, edited and produced book, which is currently in the final stages of editing.

The online process the project has implemented can be summarised thus:

1. Initial idea from a blogpost;

2. Pieces submitted by gmail, Twitter or blogpost;

3. Edited and translated by contributors around the world;

4. Marketed online via Twitter and other social networks.

The publishing industry surely takes advantage of the information superhighway to edit and produce its books, but this project has simply been so quick from concept to realization. Although it was initially proposed to have the project completed within a week, that so much has been achieved within just eleven days is remarkable.

The clincher, however, will be to see how good the book actually is. To produce it within a brief timeframe is impressive. To produce something exceptional in that time would be simply miraculous, and a testament to what user generated content can really achieve.

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Unmoderated citizen journalism means one thing: incoherence

Alex Webb

The term “news agenda” is frequently bandied around: “Such-and-such is driving the news agenda”, “So-and-so contributed to today’s news agenda”.

It suggests there is some sort of coherence to the way news is reported, that what hits our television screens or fills our newspapers is considered before it reaches us; not that it is censored or an opinion imposed upon it, although that might sometimes be the case, but that it is not arbitrarily presented to us. There is a reason we refer to news outlets as the media: each one is a medium through which we can access the day’s news.

This is where online citizen journalism falls short. It is not that the standard of reporting is inherently inferior, or that a lack of professionalism means naïveté is unavoidable. It is a question of coherence. The very best user-generated news sites have a professional staff: those at CNN’s iReport, surely the market leader, not only decide which stories will lead on the website, but also vet stories, checking for accuracy and veracity. Of the 544,883 ‘iReports’ posted since the its launch in 2006, 38,382 have been vetted, a ticker on the site purports. Without such work, iReport would be garbled, as reddit (the news aggregator) can often seem to be.

That it needs editorial vetting raises a question mark over the extent to which it can really be called user-generated, but this is surely the only model which is feasible. In order to prevent news simply becoming a constantly tumbling waterfall which drowns consumers, moderation is necessary, and the professional journalist will therefore always be essential.

Also worth checking out:

Le Post (France’s answer to the iReport)

Ground Report

RINF Alternative News

NowPublic

Demotix

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War through a soldier’s lens

Since October, The Daily Telegraph has been posting a couple of videos every month from soldiers on a six month tour of Helmand with the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Although the clips clearly undergo some editing at the hands of the Telegraph, they are otherwise entirely shot by three men from the ranks: Corporal Donald McMaster, Sergeant Billy Carnegie and Private Peter McQuaid.

The insight they provide into the daily lives of troops on the ground is superb; because it is the soldiers themselves shooting the footage, the conversations witnessed are those between mates – bantering and larking around, bereft of the sanitised PR conversations normal journalists might elicit. The viewer has a real sense of what daily life is like, of how they get through the day.

Televised by the protagonists

If Vietnam was the first televised war, then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are surely the first conflicts to be televised by the protagonists themselves. Although not all videos are as interesting or coherent as those from the Scots, a quick search on YouTube turns up hundreds of videos of IED explosions, firefights and tributes to fallen comrades. Typing Afghanistan gives you 485,000 results, while Iraq gives you 779,000.

The videos seem to fit the formula of any other YouTube clip: unexpected things happening to ordinary people. Except you are not watching a teenager from the Midwest falling off his skateboard, but a booby trap which might have taken countless lives.

The voices in these videos – often disembodied, off-camera – are not those of sanitised war heroes, but of young men, pumped with mutual machismo and adrenaline. It is clear that some get a kick out of the precarious situation in which they find themselves, but it is clear that the bravado evident in many clips is a way of coping with such extremes. Many videos posted, particularly the tributes, are an effort both to come to terms with and provide a snapshot of the realities of war; its mundanity, its camaraderie and its brutality.

From a journalistic perspective, no one video can provide you with a complete, coherent sense of what life is like on the frontline, but taking the legion of them together reminds you that war is not really about strategy or death tolls, it is about the squaddies at the sharp end of the action. It would be wrong to assume that an ordinary soldier posts a video without any agenda, but the video he uploads makes the wars about people and personalities, not politics.

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Ricky Gervais: social media pioneer?

Ricky Gervais... obviously

Alex Webb

As someone who made his name by creating characters whose painful self-awareness led to often uncomfortable hilarity, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ricky Gervais is a giant of the blogosphere.

According to trafficestimate.com his blog got some 256,000 hits in the past month, although Gervais himself claims to get over a million.

Posting wittily more or less every day, he gives readers a peak into his daily life without actually telling us much at all.
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Internet in the tube: what it means for social media

Alex Webb

Tube map on an iPhone

Going underground: Now you can be wired up in the tube.

July 7th 2005 is often cited as the date when the man on the street became the news correspondent. The BBC received 22,000 e-mails and text messages about the tube and bus bombings, whilst 300 photos came flying into the organization’s e-mail inboxes.

So when it was announced this week that free public wi-fi was to be trialled at Charing Cross station, it seemed that the luddites’ last urban bastion was finally being broken down, opening up to the spleen of social media one of Londoners’ favourite gripes: the tube.
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