Archive for category Citizen Journalism

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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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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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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Mohammed Nabbous, hero of citizen journalism

By Emily Fairbairn
Mohammed Nabbous died this week.   Described as “the face of Libyan citizen journalism” by NPR’s Andy Carvin, Nabbous, known as Mo, was the primary contact for many Western journalists. He documented the Libyan revolution from a citizen’s point of view, posting exclusive videos that revealed the violence wreaked by Colonel Gadaffi’s troops against rebels in Benghazi. He founded the TV channel Libya Al Hurra TV, and was killed in the process of exposing attacks carried out by Gadaffi’s forces during a supposed cease-fire. Roy Greenslade of the Guardian writes that Mo was “regarded as one of the few credible, independent sources of news and analysis of the rapidly deteriorating situation in the city.”

Mo’s death is therefore not just a tragedy for his family, but for the watching world as well. Work by fearless individuals like him is the only way that the rest of us will hear about the horrors carried out in the parts of the world that shut out the mainstream media. It’s an old cliche, but knowledge is power; we should be little surprised that Gadaffi’s regime wanted him dead.

When Mo’s pregnant wife Perdita tearfully announced his death on Libya Alhurra, she reaffirmed the importance of the citizen journalist and insisted that Mo must not be allowed to die in vain.

“I want to let all of you to know that Mohammad has passed away for this cause. He died for this cause, and let’s hope that Libya will become free,” she said.

“Please keep the channel going, please post videos, and just move every authority you have to do something against this. There’s still bombing, there’s still shooting, and more people are going to die. Don’t let what Mo started go for nothing, people. Make it worth it.”

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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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