Tag Archives: participation

Tweeting in the Commons?

The journalist’s pot of UGC gold looks likely to be enlarged after the Commons Procedure Committee decreed that MPs should be allowed to tweet in the Commons chamber. After they were initially banned in January, the committee recommended that smartphones and tablets should be allowed (but not laptops as they take up too much space), provided that they are on silent and used in a way which does not ‘impair decorum’. The Commons will vote on the measure within the next two months.


The move hasn’t been without controversy. James Gray, Tory MP for North Wiltshire, argued that excessive use of electronic devices would lead to a ‘worrying change of atmosphere’ in the chamber, in which members weren’t properly concentrating on the debates. But the potential effects for MPs and journalists (who can tweet from the public gallery) could run far deeper than that.

Where does it go from here?

According to the report, 225 MPs now use Twitter. One of the committee’s main supporting arguments is that it will bring parliament a whole new audience, in the form of hundreds of thousands of MPs’ Twitter followers. Moreover, it seems likely that many more MPs will feel compelled to begin tweeting; if so many are communicating with their followers/constituents directly, those passing up the opportunity will appear increasingly distant.

Rich Pickings

This means that a huge new source of UGC material becomes available – MPs may tweet their reaction to others’ comments, and conversely may respond to journalists’ tweets questioning their behaviour. Useful too will be the large amount of constituent-MP tweeted discussions during an actual debate which might have a significant influence on the MP’s vocal comments and eventual voting.

Potential Pitfalls

An example of Twitter hosting co-debates was seen in the Australian parliament, where MPs have always been unrestricted. Back in 2009, a row flared up between the Speaker and MP Peter Dutton, in which the latter tweeted criticisms about the Speaker’s apparent favouring of the opposite party. (The Speaker warned that tweets were not covered by parliamentary privilege).

Shifting the Debate

This shows that Twitter has the power to lift a debate from the chamber and into cyberspace, allowing anyone – MPs, lobbyists, journalists – to join in.  Again it is another example of the traditional top-down media role being undermined. Should the committee recommendations be adopted, parliamentary reporters will have to pay as much attention to the cyber debate as to the Commons floor itself. This raises tricky issues for a Speaker trying to adjudicate without looking at his/her own device. But as a whole new world of co-debate, involving anyone and everyone, is invited into the chamber, there are rich UGC pickings indeed. Truly democratic, and virtually uncontrollable, no journalist worth their salt will be able to ignore this new dynamic.



YOU do the hard work so WE don’t have to

Public school boys turned Sony award winning dj-duo, Adam and Joe have gone a long way since using finger puppets to re-create ‘Shakespeare in Love’ on their 90’s late night TV show, to the cult following the two achieved on their XFM and BBC 6 Music radio shows in the last decade.

Connecting with the audience

Copyright BBC

Audience participation remains a key element of their radio shows (although they are currently on sabbatical but fingers-crossed will return soon).

At the Big British Castle for those in the know (BBC for those who aren’t) Song Wars spawned two mildly-successful (or critically acclaimed if you’re a fan) CDs.

Copyright Adam and Joe

The set up: a listener would choose a topic every week, Adam and Joe would go off and compose a tongue in cheek song, battle it out on air and the listeners would vote for the one they liked the best.

Themes included: festivals, birthdays, Bond’s Quantum of Solace, Australia, meatballs, robots, heroes, the footie song, the list goes on…

‘Text the Nation’ (text, text, text) another regular feature used listeners to tell their own anecdotes based on a question set by Adam and Joe. Themes have included ‘Childhood Misconceptions’, ‘Horror Film Ideas’, ‘nicknames’ etc and meant we the audience were able to interact with Adam and Joe as well as getting to thoroughly embarrass ourselves on air.

TTN was also instrumental in setting off the Stephen! call and response across the UK. Knowing what ‘Stephen’ was made you feel like you were a little club no one else understood. And no, I’m not going to tell you what its all about…STEPHEN… Just coming! Oh go on then, look at this…

How they uses their listeners

OK, so we’re not talking user generated content used by BBC news or our old friend the Guardian, but entertainment-wise Adam and Joe are incredibly clever, they have always used their listeners wisely.

Literally listeners, you do the hard work so they don’t have to. Adam and Joe may set the theme, questions and carry the show, but content wise it’s pretty much driven by the listeners. They understand how important audience interaction is for their show.

And they haven’t done too badly… one gold at the 2010 Sony Awards (the judges said they interact with the audience in a “refreshing and engaging way”), three silver Sony’s in 2009 (Comedy, Entertainment and Competition) and nominations for 2009’s BT Digital Music Awards.

Adam and Joe excel at making you feel just like you are sitting at the kitchen table having a chat and cup of tea  with your two friends who just won’t grow-up – just like radio should do.

UGC: What’s in it for you?

‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ has been snapping at the media’s heels for many decades. It’s a clear example of the most obvious reason people contribute to the media – to put forward their point of view, both on the news and the way it’s presented. The outlets for doing this are many and varied, and the potential size of audience beyond Disgusted’s wildest dreams.


All mainstream newspaper websites allow online comment to be added to stories, but that’s just the start. The Daily Mail is one of many employing a rating system; comments consistently recommended by other users rise to the top of the list. It is a cunningly democratic way of sorting thoughtful wheat from reactionary chaff, whilst adding all-important kudos to the process; not only can your views be published, but they can also win credibility from other users. The BBC takes this a step further – on their news site, the best comments are often added to the the main body of text, and become part of the ‘official’ journalism.


But there’s more to contributing than simply letting off steam. There’s an opportunity to actually drive a media outlet’s agenda. BBC programmes Feedback and Points of View are classic examples. These are all about discussing audience reaction, based on a selection of positive and negative contributions. The relevant BBC bigwig is hauled in to explain an approach, and often to promise to do better. The corporation clearly wants its audiences to know it cares. The fact it’s openly sensitive to criticism actually drives the audience participation – they know they can make a difference.


This, then, is the buzzword, and with it a sense of involvement. Today’s viewers won’t put up with being talked at. Not only do they feel the right to talk back, they also want the right to create. Technology makes contributions easier, but that’s not the only reason behind the sea-change in user-generated content. A vivid eye-witness report or grainy footage from a well-placed smartphone validate audience experience, and give coverage an open, relavant feel. The need for democratisation of good journalism is a popular public sentiment. Disgusted is happy to help.