News has always been something people shared – whether over the dinner table or the watercooler. Today UGC (user-generated content) applications make it easier than ever for people to share what is newsworthy to them online. Instead of being passive consumers of the news viewers can join the conversation by uploading and submitting images and videos of local community events.
UGC is not a new concept. For example, letters to the editor have been around for quite some time. However, the ease of use, low cost (typically free or free with online registration) and availability of UGC is increasing the amount of citizen journalism content being generated.
Luckily, for budding citizen journalists, these days it’s hard to find a local new organization that isn’t promoting its user-generated content application.
With news organizations around the nation suffering financially – having thousands of feet on the street potentially shooting the next ‘it’ story – there is a lot to get excited about when it comes to UGC.
There are also some concerns…below is an excerpt of my interview with former WGN radio news director Wes Bleed addressing the topics of UGC, citizen journalism and the news-gathering process.
Q: As a former news director, how do you view user submitted photo and video content?
A: Using user submitted content is always something that I would be hesitant about in the sense that you just don’t know where it’s coming from. Well, you might know where it’s coming from but you might not have a handle on how you got it. Did you get it because somebody had just simply gone out and shot video or recorded sound and did nothing else but just send it to you? Or was there some kind of editing in the pre-stages before you got it? Well if that’s the case then now you don’t really know just what you ended up with. So that’s always a problem. You also don’t know necessarily how reliable the person is. Again, is it just Joe Citizen trying to be a good guy? Or is it somebody trying to get his name out there to get attention for himself? So on and so forth. So I have a lot of questions about it. Now having said all the downsides, now the upside is you can get people involved. You can get some very interesting shots, stills, video perhaps some kind of Magruder type film that nobody else would possibly have. So you never want to dismiss it out of hand, but you just have to be very careful about it. So that’s my big thing, be careful about it. Try to figure out where it came from. At the same time embrace the possibilities that it does present.
When news organizations embrace UGC submitted content they make users more loyal and encourage users to be more engaged with the Web site. One of the added-values of news organizations promoting and highlighting UGC submissions is that it builds brand preference with viewers offline – beyond the air-waves, beyond the broadcast, and beyond a Web site.
Looking to inspire citizen journalists in your community? Wes Bleed informs citizen journalists of what it takes to make it from the UGC platform to the broadcast.
Q: If there is a citizen journalist who is watching this and they want to know how will their content make the cut. Instead of being just user submitted content it makes it onto the air or makes it onto the website and it gets highlighted in some fashion. What qualities or how would you evaluate a user submitted content that would make the cut that would go beyond just the user generated platform?
A: I think it has to be the unique value of what that is. If a tornado rolls through your town and you happened to have your camera in the car and instead of taking cover you take a moment to video the tornado and nobody else does…your video is going to be used all over the place, my guess is. If many people are shooting and recording and video-ing certain things than the best is going to be used and yours may be pushed down in terms of that unique quality. So I think it all has to do with the story. With the interest in the story and certainly with your unique offering. Are you the first on the scene? Are you like the guy that twittered the first photo of the plane in the Hudson? Everybody saw that. And it was because it was unique and timely and it was of a very perishable nature, in the sense that that scene, nobody else could get because the plane was sinking. So that was a terrific shot. It all goes back to again, what else is there? What’s the story? What’s the interest level? And what did you provide?
Several examples of UGC applications: