Ask a media organisation about their motives for encouraging user interactivity, and they will mention such worthies as democratisation, reciprocity and authenticity. But the evolution of UCG was partly a consequence of, and important contributor to, a growing desire for transparency in the journalistic process.
Going are the days when news is handed to you on a plate at set mealtimes, well cooked and prepared behind the kitchen door. These days, there is no shame in letting the consumers see the work in progress. On the contrary, it’s an advantage: the consumer is then able to credit the source for themselves. It’s a trend that began with the addition of newsroom offices into the background of news studio sets, and continues now in the overt and relentless requests for first-hand information.
Dealing with the Complicated
In covering a large, chaotic event like the student fees protests in December, the BBC was criticised for patchy and delayed coverage (most notably regarding the apparent assault on wheelchair user Jody McIntyre) – its viewers had myriad feeds of alternative eye-witness information from a young, technically alert protest body, and understandably the BBC couldn’t keep up with it all. But its delayed response was also testament to the aforementioned mindset of yore – that reporting the news means churning out a series of finished, pre-validated products, albeit products sourced from new media.
But the trend of transparency means even the process of basic fact-checking can be an open, interactive one. Had the BBC dealt with its complex task by focusing its work on validation through witnesses using Twitter and other media, it would have quietened the howls of criticism. If rumours are circulating, the BBC needed to be discussing them. It’s the only way to maintain journalistic credibility in the face of a social media avalanche; official journalistic bodies no longer have the monopoly on information. As modern consumers become more used to having their journalism built before them, they will increasingly come to assume that if they can’t see it, it isn’t happening. It will be interesting to see if the student fees protest is the last time the BBC does itself such an avoidable disservice.