User-generated news: pitfalls and possibilities


User-generated content is becoming more and more central to news-telling. But over at MaYoMo.com they’re building a community of mobilised, networked users that they hope will create its own global news agenda. Your2pence spoke to Christina Bozhidarova, a community manager at the site to see what their endeavour teaches us about UGC.


 

The site was founded in 2009 by two enterprising Bulgarians, Hristo Alexiev and Ilian Milinov. MaYoMo and stands for Map Your Moments, and fittingly, one of the site’s main features is a giant map of the world with pegs linking to the latest news-related video content.




UGc vs. Citizen Journalism

Bozhidarova says the site was envisaged as an online platform where ‘ordinary people without professional journalism skills would be able to share mobile video and photo content’. This tallies with how Matthew Eltringham from the BBC Hub defines UGC – something made ‘accidentally’ by ‘dentists, doctors and shopkeepers’.

But Bozhidarova says the site’s main contributors are ‘civic activists, freelance journalists, bloggers, journalism students, photojournalists, filmmakers & NGO’s from all over the world’. So, they aren’t all ordinary people – many are aspiring or even practising journalists. And the videos are listed under the tab ‘Citizen Journalism’ implying something more conscious, conscientious or even constructed.

If we follow Eltringham’s definition, MaYoMo’s videos are not UGC, but citizen journalism. Bozhidarova, though, doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive: ‘citizen journalism is a form of UGC… made by non-professionals’ she says. But of course, many of MaYoMo’s contributors are professionals, or on their way to being so.

It’s easy to get into a pickle over this. Drawing a distinction between an ordinary user and a citizen journalist becomes impossible at MaYoMo because the site plays host to both. But it’s interesting that MaYoMo originally wanted to be a place for an ordinary users, but, by its own admission, became a place for aspiring and professional journalists. As a specialist community rather than a mainstream media outlet, MaYoMo can hardly expect to attract many people who don’t already have an active interest in video journalism.

Anti-establishment

The non-mainstream nature of UGC means MaYoMo has attracted a specific type of content. Bozhidarova cites ‘the political protests and demonstrations in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon’ as particularly popular videos. Marches and demos make up a large percentage of the content, perhaps because MaYoMo market themselves as champions of ‘freedom of speech and expression’.

Watch the video of protests in Albania

The prevalence of this sort of material is in many ways a result of access; protests can be filmed  easily and often have serious, violent consequences but they rarely make headline news in countries other than their own. MaYoMo, as an international platform, fills this gap.

We also see MaYoMo’s place among the demonstrators in its coverage of the 2009 UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen. The summit attracted a large number of activists and protesters and MaYoMo created a ‘virtual rally‘ online inviting users to ‘voice their opinion’ on the talks.


Bozhidarove insists that ‘everyone was free to express their views, thoughts and beliefs without the means of news propaganda’, making the channel a vehicle for climate-skeptics as much as eco-activists. I found only 2 climate-skeptic videos (here and here) out of about 500. Clearly the activists had the upper hand with so many people on the ground, but this again shows how UGC here leans towards a people-driven, anti-establishment mode.


do we care about quality anymore?

Hardly any of the footage on MaYoMo is of broadcast quality, Most of it is mobile phone or handheld camera quality. The films are shaky, grainy, and often unedited. But footage from MaYoMo has made its way onto The Observers, a UGC-led site and TV programme on France 24,  The Huffington Post, Now Public and into the hands of the BBC. Clearly for these news organisations, shoddy camerawork is not a problem if there’s no high-quality footage available and a film shows events from a privileged, front-line position.

But Bozhidarova goes a step further. She says MaYoMo encourages their contributors to send raw, unedited material. ‘Raw, original video is very valuable nowadays’ she says, ‘it gives the impression to the viewers as if they have witnessed the event themselves’. Peter Berghammer said back in 2007 that ‘the audience for low resolution, small format video is exploding’ despite the growth of High-Definition, and he held user-generated content to blame.

The low resolution, small-scale video of YouTube provides an intimacy, immediacy and inspiration… that exists because of its low resolution.
Peter Berghammer

Berghammer said that low quality UGC provides ‘intimacy’ and ‘immediacy’. It creates a sense of being right in the heart of the action but only shows a limited perspective – a far cry from the Sky News helicopters. UGC is cheap, fast, fresh and focused. It will never replace the mainstream, but with help from sites like MaYoMo, it’s finding it can offer something different and more and more essential.

HARRIET BIRD

 

 

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