Tag Archives: commentisfree

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


UGC Past, Present and Future

You could say that User Generated Content is a new name for an age-old concept. Since the early days of Fleet Street readers have been keen to give their tuppence-worth by writing letters to the editor. Radio and Television broadcasting ignited the trend of text and phone-ins to engage their audiences.

However, when the term User Generated Content entered mainstream usage in 2005, the Joe Public’s interaction with media was rapidly changing from passive to interactive. On the day of the July 7 bombings it was the dramatic stills and videos from passengers on the tube that led the BBC’s 6 O’clock bulletin, far removed from the eyes of professional journalists. Suddenly mass media organisations saw the significance of the citizen journalist to broadcast news – not only to comment on it, but also to break it. As a result journalists are increasingly looking to tap into users’ own platforms as well as curating the material that comes through their own websites.

The arrival of UGC saw a shift from media organizations creating professional content to producing web services that allow amateurs to publish their own content – think YouTube, Twitter, Digg and the Guardian CommentIsFree website. The one-way media of the past (the letters and phone-ins) had become a two-way, conversational media. Today web users are able to establish relationships and build communities with like-minded people, or debate with different-minded people. The net provides an unlimited amount of space for people to exchange opinions and ideas.

In contrast to traditional media web users have few barriers to entry – it’s easy to post a comment and you’re more or less guaranteed publication. And you don’t need to send something to mainstream media to reach large audiences – one of today’s top watched YouTube videos Yellow Socks has 2,519,238 viewers, 96,755 comments and counting…

With YouTube users loading 24 hours of new video content a minute, Twitter receiving approximately 28,000 unique visitors a month, and the Guardian.co.uk getting half a million comments a month and rising, UGC is an ever increasing phenomenon. The question is how to control the content from third parties whilst retaining a sense of accessibility and freedom of expression. And how to trawl the millions of daily comments, links and postings most efficiently to unearth those few golden nuggets of information.