Posts Tagged citizen journalism

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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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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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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Japan’s earthquake and the power of the citizen journalist

Emily Fairbairn The world has stood transfixed as the tragic events in Japan unfold.  All over the globe people were able to see instantly the scale of the devastation, thanks largely to the amount of content being posted online by survivors.

Tweets from Tokyo hit 1,200 per minute as the tsunami swept the Japanese coastline, and YouTube is flooded with shakily shot footage of the disaster. In fact, so many videos have been uploaded that the site is collating them on its CitizenTube channel.

It is at times like these that the power of the citizen journalist is reaffirmed.  Only those at the scene of the disaster can truly tell the story, and thanks to the explosion of social media and new technology they can tell it better than ever. The last devastating earthquake to hit Japan, in 1995, was nowhere near as well documented. Now the world sees the destruction instantly and graphically, and what a sight it is.

Hopefully the shocking images and testimonials pouring out of Japan will help mobilise the aid effort as quickly as possible. In the mean time, the sheer scale of videos, blogs and tweets serve as a reminder of how much journalism has benefited from the rise of user generated content. How awful that it takes a disaster like this to do so.

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User generated content “not journalism”

Patrick Smith

NBC digital chief says videos sent in by viewers is not journalism.

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