‘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.