Tag Archives: The Guardian

TwiTrips – What the Tw***er?



I was at school with a bit of a bright spark who later at Manchester University set up the (now defunct) crowdsurfing website youngineurope, a UGC site for young backpackers, who might well have been broke but who still wanted to explore Europe.

After being snapped up by the Guardian in his final year Benji Lanyado is now by his own admission  a 27 year old ‘travel journalist for (mostly) the Guardian and (sometimes) the New York Times‘ as well as a bit of a social media guru.

Over the past year Benji has developed the ‘Twitter trip‘ or ‘twitrip’ for short – where he is parachuted into a city and people suggest where he should go via twitter. So what better way to tell me all how the magic happens than to do a little interview over twitter…

And that is where technology failed us and twitter went down….sometimes it’s still worth meeting face to face. Anyway, it’s worth watching Benji and his movements.  The twitrips idea is so beautifully simple yet still so innovative and he’s got a lot more where that comes from.

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The Budget 2011 Online


Budget day always creates a flurry of excitement in the news. The press hype it by trying to second guess what’s going to change, journalists are desperate to work out what the headlines are and the House of Commons is packed for the most important speech of the year from the Chancellor.

With the speech starting at 12.30, lunchtime TV news cut to it live with summaries rolling across the bottom of the screen and some special programmes. Online, it was tackled in different ways and here are a few examples.

Channel 4

Titled LIVE BLOG: Budget 2011 – this newsite wanted to stress just how up to date they are. The page had a mixture of content, tweets from those using their hashtag, summaries of what Osbourne was saying and videos. I was impressed with the speedy upload of videos as the speech was happening. The one that stood out to me the most was the video below, featuring their Economics Editor, Faisal Islam.

The use of Twitter and the live speech in the background was a good move. The video stream again gave the page an edge, kept it current and gave it a feel of live TV. Without actively encouraging viewers to tweet, the likelihood of them doing so is increased by the fact that Faisal is addressing them visually via the video – the audience feel as though he is talking directly to them. Its great to see UGC at the forefront and I was glad to see it wasn’t all just commentary and the live blog included lots of users’ views.

The Guardian also provided live coverage. Perhaps a more traditional take, with short bursts of commentary from the senior political correspondent, Andrew Sparrow, interspersed with the pinpointing of new topics as they came up in the speech, such as….

1.09pm: Osborne is on education now.

1.12pm: Osborne is talking about pensions.

I was pleased to see that later on they did include some UGC in the form of a summary page of comments and reactions.

The BBC made a budget calculator designed to show you if you would be worse or better off. The interactive element was good and twitter was full of people moaning/boasting about their results. Can it really be taken as accurate though? Surely there are too many individual financial variables?

REBECCA BELL

Opinion, experience and expertise: readers as agony aunts


The bossy yet benevolent agony aunt has been a regular feature on our pages since the early 1930s. It’s been a long time since Leonora Eyles suggested to jilted readers of Woman’s Own

‘… have you tried to find out if there was anything in you that caused him to be unfaithful? Forgive him – but be honest with yourself and see if you were at all to blame.’  Woman’s Own, 27 Oct 1944

Perhaps not what you’d call good advice, but then what qualifies an agony aunt to answer readers’ questions? Could anyone do it? The Times, The Independent and The Guardian let their readers respond. Here’s how.

The Times

Image: FaceMePLS

In a feature called Too Male to Talk reticent men pose their dilemmas to (mostly) female readers.

Here’s one example:
My wife keeps going out for walks with her mobile phone. I am worried she might be embarking on an affair. What should I do?

‘I take my mobile phone with me every afternoon when I am walking the dog. I am listening to live horse racing commentaries… Perhaps she is a gambling addict.’

‘Has your wife changed her image recently? Begun losing weight? Cut or coloured her hair?… If the answer to these questions is “yes” then yup, your wife is embarking on an affair.’

‘The fact that you are even asking the question suggests that perhaps there is more to this than just your wife going out with her phone for a walk… You might want to think about getting some counselling so that you can examine your feelings. Think carefully before you react — once you’ve accused her the trust is broken.’

The three responses suggest wildly different approaches. While the third is reasonably objective, the second seems jaded by a personal sob story. This lack of direction makes the column initially confusing, but I think we do get a sense of which answer we should trust.

The Independent

In Quandry questions about schooling are answered by Hilary Wilce, an educational journalist and by readers. Here’s an example:

We are worried that our teenagers watch a lot of violent and vulgar TV programmes. Will it harm them? What’s the evidence?

Wilce: In debating the recent Jonathan Ross debacle with my children and their friends I was struck by how little they seemed to feel the cruelty of what he and Russell Brand had done… Then, chillingly, came new research from King’s College, London, showing today’s 14-year-olds seem less clever and less able to think deeply about new ideas than their predecessors, and may have a diminishing capacity for empathy. Researchers hypothesised that screen culture must be partly to blame.

Readers’ advice:

Looking at the lines of ecstatic faces in the crowd in Chicago when Barack Obama was elected, I realised how few uplifting and hopeful messages these young people have ever been given. Their faces showed they were hungry for something different.

People should have more faith in teenagers – we’re not so easily led astray.

Wilce’s expertise is validated by the research she points us to, though it’s still propped up by personal experience. And I would like to see the evidence supporting the claim that 14 year olds “seem less clever”. The first reader gives un-evidenced conjecture but the second, as a teenager, speaks from a slight position of authority. We glimpse UGC’s potential to be informative, but don’t see it fully realised.

The Guardian

Image: wolfiewolf

In the Money blog readers’ questions are answered in the comments boxes, with little editorial control. Here’s a particularly effective case:

I am a widow in my seventies, living on a small income and with £6,000 savings. Should I buy a funeral plan with the money, or invest it in some other way?

Don’t worry about that; spend the money and enjoy yourself

If you haven’t had to organise a funeral then you will not understand what a relief it is to have had decisions… made for you by the person who has died. My mother was killed in an accident coming back from visiting my father in hospital; he died two weeks later. They had chosen and paid for their funerals in advance … amid all the grief and trauma of their deaths not having to decide how much we should spend on things like coffins and cars… was such a relief.

We both sell these plans (rarely) and help with probate… I believe Funeral Plans will (soon) not be counted as assets for the assessment of Care Fees whereas savings will – so £3000 in a funeral plan is worth £3000 to the family, whereas £3000 in a deposit account could well be worth £3000 to the local council.

Here we have all shades of the rainbow. The first response is quickly ignored but the second – heartfelt, moving and relevant – is compelling. The third offers knowledge and insight and even comes with a disclaimer. And both trustworthy responses suggest the same course of action. Not all questions on the blog are answered this well, but this shows how good UGC can be.

Conclusions

The three camps of opinion, personal experience and expertise are incrementally both more desirable and harder to achieve. And we can assess UGC on how many of these it has. The worst respondent has only opinion (e.g. the second respondent in The Times and the first in The Guardian) and the best has all three (e.g. Hilary Wilce and the third respondent in The Guardian). Professional agony aunts should have all three.

Anyone contributing UGC has an opinion to share; some of those have personal experience; some of those are experts. Not all experts have personal experience.

What is perhaps surprising is how easy it is to separate the good advice from the bad.  We are able to quickly ascertain which of these characteristics the response has and judge it accordingly. The problem is, you never know which advice the questioner will take.

HARRIET BIRD

A SXSW panel on UGC and censorship, via twitter


We couldn’t make it to SXSW in Texas because we’re stuck in rainy old Blighty but when  we heard about a panel debate called The User Generated Revolution, Social Media Overcoming Censorship we followed the tweets compulsively. And we thought we should make it easy for you to do the same. Below are some hand-picked reactions from Josh Halliday of The Guardian, Joanna Geary of the Times, Jonathan Cohen, founder of Support Local Grow Together in Austin and panellist Sanam Dolatshahi.

Lots of comments of the importance of verifying the accuracy of UGC news

So it seems that

Those priorities winning support
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/46956290173440000

But it’s not all that easy…

Especially given that

And important because

And finally, a perhaps unexpected insight that…

Here’s the background:

The panel featured 4 BBC journos, Abi Sawyer from BBC World Service Future Media, Julian Siddle, creator of the tech programme Digital Lifestyles, Raymond Li, head of BBC Chinese and Sanam Dolatshahi, presenter and producer on BBC Persia’s Interactive program Nowbat-e Shoma (Your Turn). Here’s the blurb for the event:

Social media is becoming an essential tool for activists in repressive societies. In 2009 the Iranian government expelled foreign media and jammed international broadcasts. For the BBC’s Persian TV emails, video, Twitter and Facebook postings from Iran became the main source of news. Groundbreaking stories were complied using material from viewers and listeners – often sent in with great personal risk to themselves. In the Xingjian province of China government censors were defeated by a tweet – news of a popular uprising amongst the regions Uighurs in this remote province leaked out to the world’s media. A military clampdown ensued, but not before foreign media got to the region and heard the Uighurs grievances. Conversely the oppressors use the same social media tools, partly to spread disinformation about their activities, but also in the cases of groups such as the Taliban, to push their beliefs. The panel will discuss how censorship and suppression is made more and more difficult to hide by the social media revolution, and the impact of this for traditional media organisations.

HARRIET BIRD

Engagement, identity and user-generated content


The undisputed winner of this year’s Guardian g2 calendar is a 17 year old called Hannah Porter. Her entry, a close-up photo of her face with g2 painted across it, is the front cover of the calendar and g2’s twitter profile picture.

The Face of G2 by Hannah Porter

The Face of g2 b Hannah Porter

She explains the image in a caption underneath:

“I chose to use my face as a canvas because g2 is about two things: what it is made up of and who reads it. And anyone can be a reader, from a middle-aged person to a teenager like me”.

A near-perfect summation of what UGC helps define and reinforce, namely, a media organisation’s identity arrived at through its audience. Building up that inter-relationship is crucial.

The task was to:

“send in your photographs on the theme of G2… You could show an issue on location, spot the letters in your lunch, or find G2 recreated in nature”.

The expectation on the user here is big – they’re asked to spend time, thought and artistic endeavour creating their image. It’s a high level of engagement,  a top scorer on the graph that measures how much effort is required in order for a user to participate. This is far above asking for a thumbs up or down.

And the respondents were true to this. One waited (maybe hours) for birds to settle on a snowy roof (then photoshopped the image into full obeisance). Another shaved the letters into their hair, and a third made the calendar the subject of a family discussion, kids included.

An image of a gravestone reading: Here lies Harriet Bird 1986 - 2011 She loved the Guardian's g2

A dedicated reader, deceased

This reinforces the point – UGC here is not about giving a new angle on a national issue. It’s about telling the story of g2, and building a brand identity that is open, diverse, democratic and creative. The aim of the calendar is to help g2 penetrate as far as it can into its readers’ lives,  make it something they think about, obsess over, define themselves through.

Not all UGC works like this, but the best helps establish a strong and faithful relationship between media outlet and audience.

Doesn’t that give you a warm glowing feeling inside? Happy Christmas.

HARRIET BIRD

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.

EMILY ARCHER