Sunday, November 29, 2015

User Generated Content in the News

Alex Warner

Amid the rapid flow of information through social media and the Internet, accuracy and verification of user-generated content are becoming more of an issue for news outlets. Without the verification of information, credibility can begin to diminish.

In a Poynter article that reviews tips for going about using user-generated content, it says one that is often ignored is, "Always contact the person who uploaded or provided the material. In other words, check the source as much as the information."

This tip is the key to reporting accurate information. Though getting the content of a story correct is important, photo(s) that go along with the story are of equal importance.

A journalist or photographer can make the unethical decision to manipulate a photo to make it better for a story and get in trouble for it; but when a person who has no responsibility with photos manipulates it, it doesn't seem like a big deal.

Just about anyone can access Adobe Photoshop, giving him or her the power to manipulate a photo in any way he or she chooses and put it out on the Internet. That's why newsrooms are implementing policies and procedures to help verify information before it is sent out.

According to an article from, one way newsrooms are checking photos is with a digital forensic program called Fotoforensics. Through this site, users can see signs of photo manipulation, such as discoloration. The article also says talks about sites like, "TinEye and Google [that] offer free reverse image search that allow users to track down where an image originated."

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User-generated content can be very useful as supporting information to a story. It's the way newsrooms go about verifying that information, which can be tricky. With policies in place, this can be effective. In the Pointer article, it discusses how CNN goes about dealing with citizen content.

The CNN team uses iReport to vet citizen content. Lila King, a part of the CNN iReport team says, "At iReport we use a variety of tools: CNN-ers in the field, subject-matter experts, affiliate networks, and local media. We cross-check what we learn from citizen journalists with other social media reports."

This seems to be a very efficient way to handle what they see from citizens. Since anyone can manipulate a photo, it would be easy for newsroom to do the same. How is it that we can trust journalists not to manipulate photos?

Well, there is no definite answer, but we trust that journalists use ethical decision making before distorting a photo. Though in many cases, photojournalists have been fired for being found to unrealistically manipulate photos. For example, award-winning photojournalist Bryan Patrick was fired for enlarging details to stand out more in a photo.

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Circled above in the photo are the flames that Patrick enhanced. The photo switches back and forth to show the original and the manipulated aspects. Enhancing colors may not seem like a big deal, but it can completely change the meaning of a photo.

This is why it is so important for newsrooms to verify whether the information found is truthful and whether or not it is the original copy of a photo.

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