Archive for the ‘Reader Comments’ Category

Sharing news has never been easier

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:

Hilary Fosdal is the Interactive Content Manager for Barrington Broadcasting Group. You can follow her on Twitter and read more of her work on Running for Food.

No. 7: Make it a dialogue

For those who haven’t read Rob Curley’s article in The Journalist, you need to.  It will inspire you.

Those just getting into this new era of journalism, and there are many, can use the article as a barometer of just where they stand.  More importantly, they will be able to gauge where their employer stands.  Go through Rob’s seven steps to save the industry, which we’ve tried to discuss further on this blog.  You can take stock of what’s going on in your news organization and see how far along, or how far behind, you are.

Now to be fair, Rob’s discussion on this point was about opening a diablogue between a newsroom and it’s readers.  That’s important.  But I’d like to expand this a bit to talk about the dialogue we should be having as journalists.

This is your career we’re talking about.  These seven steps also will serve as the basis for being able to get a journalism job in the future.  Print clips just aren’t going to be enough anymore.  You’re going to have to show you’re capable of telling stories in many different ways.   If you can do this, you’re talents will be in demand.

News outlets that are losing money will be looking for folks who can do this.  I think it’s going to go from an employers’ market, where many newsrooms threatened layoffs to keep the ranks, to an employees market, where those scrambling to catch up are going to be bidding for the few out there who can produce the goods demanded in an increasingly on-line world.

Those who refuse to change, both on the employer and employee side, will gradually disappear.  Or at least, they will be less significant.

That’s the extent of my predictions for 2008.

Change may be coming sooner than you think.  Andy Dickinson, who has encouraged me and others this past year as we’ve ventured into new territories, says we’ve got six months to get our act together, at least on the video end of the web.  Andy’s insightful predictions have spurred quite a discussion over the past several weeks from Mindy McAdams and others who are really watching how the industry is changing before us.

As you read those posts, go beyond what they are saying about video.  We need to be redefining our skills and they way we deliver content to readers.

Because, as the title of this post indicates, we are entering into an age where a dialogue with our readers will drive what we do.

We are already seeing editors watching web stats and seeing what readers are really reading. I always like to point out when a story I wrote gets buried in the print edition but pops into the top 10 on the web, just to say “I told you so.”

This dialogue and metrics and page views and time spent and all the other numbers available to us now, demonstrates how the times are a-chanin’.

When my father worked as a broadcast pioneer in the 1960s, he remembered when as a news director of local television station, someone would ask him “What is news.”

“News,” he’s say, “is what I say it is.”

He was right back then. The news directors and editors used to decide what people heard and watched and read.  That was the news of the day.

Now, readers decide what they want.  And with the whole word just a click away, they can decide whether their news comes from their local,, or across the ocean from BBC or Al Jezeera.

What we have to decide is how we keep people engaged in their own communities and what’s important around them or right next door amid increasingly shorter attention spans and a myriad of choices

To do that, we may have to step outside our comfort zones.  We may have to convince editors in love with bureaucracy and minutia of planning and zoning or city budgets that they should hear when people are clamoring for more information about health care. Maybe it’s deciding that the best way to tell a story is with a compelling video and not with words.  Or maybe words speak much better than pictures.

And if the most popular hit of the day is yet another Britney Spears crises, we are going to have to figure out how to get people to come back and click on the news that really matters to their lives, the investigative pieces and information they need to make valid decisions for themselves and their families.

These are the questions facing us all, as journalists, in the coming year.

And as journalist, we had better be prepared to face them.  And respond to them.

We’d better not just be having this discussion with our readers.

We should be having it with ourselves.

No comment, please, thank you, no comment, no…

There was no video or audio, because the judge in juvenile court decided it was better to sentence the 16-year-old girl who killed her father without pictures and sound. I covered the story as I had other court stories for years.
It was one of those stories, that after you were through, your stomach hurt. I should have taken time to ask myself: “Could that story turn into an interactive nightmare?”

Newspapers all over the country have been debating how they use reader comments, including at the New York Times, which edits them.

The tragic story of abuse inside a Wichita family that led to a teenage girl shooting her father to death pointed out why we should think about them.

We were busy working on the next day’s news cycle, when the girl’s lawyer, Laura Shaneyfelt, called and asked if we’d been reading the reader comments on the story. They started out with comments from what looked like regular readers. The story was shocking enough. But as the morning turned to afternoon, personal comments began to emerge. Although we had never named the juvenile girl, her name suddenly popped up.

Then someone blamed the slain father’s mother, by name. It was apparent that a family feud had fired up on-line at

We shut the comments down. I soon received a call from a woman who said she’d tried to find the comments, after someone told her about them, and couldn’t find them. I told her they’d gotten out of hand and we needed to eliminate them and stop the discussion.

“Thank you,” she said.

Other crime stories have drawn racist remarks on our pages.

We’ve been told that legally if you edit individual comments you can limit your defense should a bad one slip through.

We have issue similar to reporters at other paper I talk to: you can write a story about quilting and someone, somewhere will eventually leave a comment about how quilting promotes illegal immigration. What are you going to do?

Some problems, however, we can head off before they start. We now have the option of clicking a “no comments” box before sending our stories to the desk. I thought that was a box to signify we’d tried to talk to a cantankerous politician. I’ve been assured it removes the opportunity for controversial comments from readers.

We now have a list of stories we should consider in checking that box, including stories that name victims or defendants.

We also check the box on stories “likely to produce ribald comments,” although as I tell our editors, those are my personal favorites.

As we tackle the large learning curves of melding layers of our coverage with audio and video, we should also remember to read the comments on our stories each day.

I’d be interested in hearing what other papers are doing.

To do that, well, leave a comment.


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