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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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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UGC: a lifesaver?

DEVASTATED: February's earthquake in NZ (photo: Flickr)

Emily Fairbairn

I urge you to read Kaila Colbin’s eloquent blog on MediaPost, A Message From Christchurch On The Value Of User-Generated Content. As a survivor of the earthquake in Christchurch, Colbin argues that it is user generated content that allows life to go on, helps a stricken country reasess itself and gets aid quickly to those who need it. More importantly still, it connects people. She puts it far better than I could:

 

“In a disaster, UGC is not here for your entertainment. It is not competing with network news for ad dollars. It does not care whether you think it should be pitted against the professionals for a journalism award. It is a way for people experiencing the most significant event of their lives to bear witness, to cry out their pain and their suffering and their need, to connect with people close by who are sharing the experience and with people far away who, but for their voices, might mistake these events for a blockbuster movie filmed on a sound stage. No human can fail to be moved by the horrific tragedy of Japan, made so real by the user-generated content coming from that ravaged coastline — its very lack of professionalism making it so abundantly clear that there is no difference at all between us and them. In these turbulent times, we cannot afford to distance ourselves from the humanity at the other end of the camera, and from the reality that there but for the grace go we.”

Looking at her words, though, one thing is clear. User generated content is not doing anything new. It’s just doing it better. Reaching out to other survivors, recording personal testimonies of disasters, calling out to the rest of the world for help: these are things that humanity has been doing forever. The explosion of user generated content just enables these things to be done faster, more easily and on a bigger scale.

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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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Reports of Libyan citizen journalist’s death

By Patrick Smith

There are reports coming out of Libya that Mohammad Nabbous, champion of user generated news in the country, has been killed in Libya. He was appenently shot by pro-Gaddafi troops in Benghazi on 19 March.

Nabbous set up Al-Hurra TV that broadcast on Livestream and featured videos made by Libyan citizens often from the front line or places not accessed by mainstream journalists.

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The downfall of Digg

By Patrick Smith

Digg was for a long time the king of the user generated news world. In recent times however it has seen its number of users fall and on 19 March founder, Kevin Rose, announced his departure.

There are many factors that have contributed to this downturn, but high among them is the adoption of many of Digg’s features by mainstream media. Its influential nature was its very downfall.

Back in 2006 when the site launched, the news agenda was dictated by large media corporations. Nowadays whether a news story goes viral and gets shared by large numbers of people is more important than where it features on a news site’s front page.

The number of shares that a story gets is the equivalent of a Digg ranking and most media companies now put substantial effort into generating this kind of interest in their stories. Nearly all now feature a plethora of share buttons for different platforms.

There have been other things that have contributed to the sites downfall. It has been dogged with criticism and controversy, not least last year’s Digg Patriots scandal. The Guardian revealed how conservatives were organising themselves to systematically clicking “bury” to downgrade stories deemed to have a liberal slant.

Digg is not dead yet but with all commentators predicting its demise it may not be long until its bell tolls.

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