Tag Archives: citizen journalism

Tablets and UGC


This week Kerry McCarthy became the first-ever MP to read her speech off a tablet computer during a Commons budget debate. They seem to be slowly embedding themselves into our society, but what of tablets’ contribution to UGC? Of course, their portabilty enhances the opportunity to interact with news while on the go, and at the source of the action.

But it’s not all smooth sailing.

Integrated UGC

I have an HTC Android Desire phone, which has a camera/video camera and voice recorder. The Android Sky News app I’ve downloaded has a direct UGC facility. Should I happen to capture something juicy, I can touch the app’s ‘Your Report’ tab, which enables me to send the material straight to Sky News, with the option of adding a comment. Fast. Free. UGC.

The Missing Element and its Knock-On Effects

But the much-vaunted Sky News iPad app – launched on March 17th 2011 – lacks this capability, principally because the first iPad lacks that integral part of our online experience: a camera. The iPad apps for CNN and BBC are therefore similarly constrained. New though they are, all have yet to be updated to fit the more sophisticated iPad 2 which, thank goodness, has front and rear-facing cameras. Yet other tablets have had cameras from the beginning, like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. This means their users can take advantage of the Sky News for Android app’s ‘Your Report’ feature, as well the CNN ‘iReport’ function which is very similar.

The Reasoning

The first iPad then was focused around the consumption of media, rather than the creation of media, and the limiting effects are still evident in its apps. So, why did Apple take this seemingly regressive step in the first place? Well, when announcing the coming of the iPad, Steve Jobs was very clear that it wasn’t supposed to be just a beefed-up version of the iPhone. (Because actually it’s more a beefed-up version of the iPod Touch). Nothing wrong with vehicles of traditional, mainstream media of course. But for £399 I can’t help feeling those early iPad pioneers were short-changed.

Since the iPad still holds 73% of the tablet market (according to an International Data Corporation report in the last quarter of 2010), its lack of camera represented a significant dint in the progress of UGC. Now that this big drawback has been addressed, let’s hope the apps catch up!

CARON BELL

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HuffPo and “quality” journalism


image: Mike Licht

Hacks have long feared being replaced by upstart citizen journalists. Back in 2007 Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, described how journalists he met at a tech conference felt about UGC. He said a quarter were angry, typically thinking:

“I hate blogs and all forms of new media. They are low quality and have nothing to add of worth”

while another quarter thought:

“I’m worried that my industry is dying, I can’t get freelance work because publications are using free user generated content instead.”

Although Rowse does add that a good half were interested in incorporating UGC into their work, this half felt distinctly embattled.

Those fears must have abated this week following the news that The Huffington Post, under its new ownership by AOL, is only interested in employing professional journalists.

An article in TechCrunch on Wednesday reported that Peter Goodman, HuffPo’s  business and technology editor, only invited freelancers with qualifications and credentials to apply to become staff, not those without. He apparently justified the position saying:

“We can’t replace professional journalism with an ad hoc blogging arrangement….we don’t want to confuse professional journalists with bloggers.”

Yesterday’s interview by Dan Sabbagh in the Guardian with head AOL honcho Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington forces the point. Apparently Armstrong just doesn’t believe in UGC:

“I don’t think user-generated content is the way people live their lives.”

A biting irony for a man who has just bought a site built from the ground-up by bloggers, citizen journalists and user-generated content. AOL paid $315million for the Huffington Post, which at the time of sale employed only 183 paid journalists yet attracted nearly 25 million unique monthly visitors. Indeed, Sabbagh writes:

“Her [Huffington’s] success has contributed to something of a backlash from the small army of unpaid bloggers who contributed to HuffPost before the AOL deal and were rewarded with nothing.”

That small army ranks at around 6,000 unpaid bloggers. One of them, Mayhill Fowler, anticipated this move in September 2010 when she stopped writing for the site. She wrote to Roy Sekoff, HuffPo founding editor:

“I have this last year gone out and done actual reportage. I’m no longer going to do that for free. I’ve paid my dues in the citizen journalism department; I’m a journalist now… So if you can’t find a place for me doing some kind of paid reporting, it’s goodbye”

And goodbye it was. Fowler adds on her blog that Huffington “was milking me for everything she could get before letting me go”. And now her resentment is being felt by many more. Last Thursday the Newspaper Guild, a journalist union, called for HuffPo bloggers to go on strike over “the company’s practice of using unpaid labor” which they called “unprofessional and unethical”. The strike has won much support.

You're still going to need one of these image: nuklr.dave

For all the talk of citizen journalists stealing jobs, it looks like the tables are facing the other way. In an industry saturated by wannabes, media organisations are being strict about who they let in. Now it seems if you want a payslip, you’ll need a certificate first.

HARRIET BIRD

Happy 5th Birthday Twitter!


We came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.” – Founder Jack Dorsey

Conception

It’s five years ago this weekend that developers at the Odeo podcasting company in San Francisco began work on their new project: an SMS service allowing individuals to communicate with a small group. On 21 March 2006  Jack Dorsey published the first ever Twitter message:

“just setting up my twttr”

The Early Years

Originally a service for Odeo employees, Twitter went public on 15 July, 2006. But its lucky break would have to wait another year – for the South by Southwest (SXSW)  film, music and interactive festival in Austin, Texas, held in March 2007. During the event, delegates’ tweets were streamed live on prominent plasma screens by Twitter employees, and the service quickly became flavour of the conference, with overall daily tweets increasing from 20,000 to 60,000. By February 2010, that number was 50 million.

Twitter Today

Its breezy name belies a medium that’s shown huge social and political strength. Although the majority of messages posted are indeed banal chit-chat, some of the traffic has had a big impact. The most obvious example is the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, in which Twitter was deployed by protestors to rally and communicate with each other on a mass scale, and to subvert the authorities’ crackdowns  by enabling protestors to share information directly with journalists.

Twitter at five has certainly remained true to its roots: unlike Facebook it remains resolutely a fountain of ‘short bursts of information’. But many are far from inconsequential.

CARON BELL

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

 

 

Interview with Matthew Eltringham – UGC at the BBC


Your2pence speaks to Matthew Eltringham, founding editor of the BBC UGC Hub. He discusses UGC’s defining moments at the BBC and his theory that the future of UGC is increasingly in the power of ‘sharing’…

What news story has UGC had the biggest impact on?

What stories work best for UGC?

Does UGC risk softening news?

Has it helped re-engage your audience?

What more will the BBC UGC Hub be doing to connect with social media platforms?

What is the future of UGC?

What are the limits of citizen journalist\’s participation?

EMILY ARCHER

Can UGC topple the regime?


For almost a week now the Egyptian protests have  dominated the news agenda.

Non stop rolling images of burning trucks, marches and adrenaline fuelled Egyptians (while the army and police look on) have taken centre stage as  tens of thousands take to the streets to protest against Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year presidency.

Courtesy of Egyptian citizen and friend Islam Harouf

Old protest v New protest

Social protest in Egypt and the wider Middle East is nothing new, but this time the internet and UGC has played a vital part in organising protestors and relaying real time images to the world’s media.

In Iran in 1979 for example the proliferation of tapes of Khoemini preaching did much to whip the Iranians into a frenzy. In 1990, the Gulf War was the first time satellites were used to produce real time images of fighting and conflict. In 2011, social networking sites, particularly twitter, facebook and youtube as well as camera and video phones have been instrumental in keeping us up-to-date as well as organising protesters.

Courtesy of Egyptian citizen and friend Islam Harouf

The April 6th movement for example, by far the most active and well known of all the protest movements has used blogs, facebook and twitter for years to spread the news of the protests and mobilize people.

And Sherine Barakat, interviewed on BBC news said of Egypt, “Today every person is a journalist.” It is no secret that Egyptians love the internet and that postings of film, images and twitter made by ordinary Egyptians armed with camera phones has appeared on the pages of the BBC, al-jazeera and other news agencies and channels across the world as well as keeping friends, family and other loved ones in the loop.

Courtesy of Egyptian citizen and friend Islam Harouf

In fact the internet has proved to be so dangerous that the government disconnected it on Thursday evening. Thats 80 million people offline. All April6th correspondence ends then.

What does this mean? Several things. The Government is scared.  Mubarak has realised that pictures are powerful.Violence could erupt – after all who is left monitoring unfolding events.

Or it could be the final nail in Mubarak’s coffin. The Egyptian people don’t look like they are backing down, but so far neither does he.

masr inshallah kulu qweies (Egypt, god willing all will be good)

Comment is Free: UGC to a T.


“Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” said former Guardian editor CP Scott back in 1921.

What he didn’t know then was that this would later become the blueprint for the launch of ‘Comment is Free’ (Cif), the Guardian and Observer Group’s way of giving their readership a stronger voice  in 2006.
Taking the website’s 7 existing blogs and adding together comment pieces from the two newspapers, Cif was born.

Screengrab of Comment is Free from The Guardian

Comment is Free set-up

It provides a platform for people and not just journalists to write articles on the current affairs of the moment. With a ‘pool of talent,’ some 700 contributors, from politicians, academics, journalists, to the ordinary man-on-the-street cif celebrates both diversity and inclusion, producing 30 new articles a day. It may not be the only newspaper encouraging us to contribute, but it is one of the best.
Comment is Free is much, much more than simply a comment’s page. It is a near perfect vehicle to encourage user generated content. Of course, commenting on articles plays a large part of Cif to foster argument, debate and opinion but the route from occasional contributor to regular writer is clear. The more you comment (and say something useful), the more well known you become on the Cif circuit, the better chance you have of being able to pitch your own ideas and getting accepted to play a more habitual role within the website.

And the incentives?
• As contributors you get to see your work published in a national newspaper.
• You get to call yourself a journalist (should you want to).
• For The Guardian they get to tap into a massive (and free) resource, important when many national newspapers are struggling financially.
• The Guardian gets to keep their reputation as innovative, progressive and community led.
• It’s cool! The sheer amount of people that write for Cif is a testament to just how well respected it has become; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Shami Chakrabarti and Terry Jones to name but a few.
As media strategist Steve Yelvington said in 2006, “Editors, please listen. If you’re not rethinking your entire content strategy around participative principles, you’re placing your future at risk”.

The critics
Now of course there has been criticism leveled against Cif. When first launched established journalists expressed their distaste at what they saw as citizen journalism taking over. They argued that with Comment is Free contributors could remain anonymous while saying what they liked. Content wise, some see Cif as provocative because comment is moderated, but largely uncensored.

But this is the beauty of the whole concept, that debate is driven by free speech, “As editors we want to have a broad spread of views on the blog and as far as possible try to give bloggers leeway to express themselves as they want” says the site.
It is this commitment to expression that led to those in charge of Cif allowing contributors to become editors for the day, taking over both the commissioning and writing of the whole site for the site’s fourth birthday in 2010.
They say: “Our aim is to host an open-ended space for debate, dispute, argument and agreement in which users are able to comment on everything they read.”
We say: Bravo Guardian. UGC down to a T.

Click here to go to Comment is Free – Frequently Asked Questions