Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Vetting User Generated Content

Hannah Mullin

"User-generated content is defined as "any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasting, pins, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites" (Wikipedia).

User generated content has become a serious problem for journalists. Since the widespread acceptance and use of social media, journalism has transformed tremendously. Chiefly, journalism has shifted from mainly a one way form of communication to a two way, fluid communication between journalist (or editor, publisher, etc.) and the reader. Part of this new direction of communication is user generated content, social media and the internet in general has given anyone with wifi the power to be a citizen journalist.

What does this mean for journalists?

Well it makes our job just a little bit more challenging. As "gatekeepers" of the news, it is our responsibility to inform the public with accurate information. User generate content is questionable territory for journalists due to difficulties verifying the accuracy of this content, and as "gatekeepers" verification is a very important part of our job.

However, another important aspect of journalism is staying ahead of the ball. Many media outlets have received praises for their proactive approach to tackling user generated content. Among these outlets are BBC, Poynter, the Associated Press, and CNN.

BBC has begun to inform audiences before showing user generated content that has been unable to be verified (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/06/bbc-cautions-user-generated-content) . An excellent example of this is BBC's coverage of the Arab spring, an astonishing "74% of 171 items of the user-generated footage sample in its content analysis carried no caveats about authenticity."

As it is becoming more and more common to use UGC,  according to Silvia Costeloe, a broadcast journalist at BBC's user generated content hub, "In many instances, the first pictures these days that come out are user-generated pictures." this large influx of foreign content has led many media sources to create entire departments to the verification of user generated content, such as BBC's user generated content hub. The UGC hub sifts through the large amounts of submitted content to verify its origins and accuracy before sending to publication says Costeloe, "we go through a very vigorous verification process...the job is also about filtering the enormous amount of noise on the Internet for that one original tweet by an eyewitness."

Why go through all the trouble to verify this user generated content?

UGC does come with some baggage, however it has opened up entirely new doors for journalism. As mentioned above, nowadays anyone can be a 'journalist' (if we are using a loose sense of the word) and that has created enormous competition between citizen journalists and professionals to not only cover more information, but the most interesting developments. Unfortunately, professional journalists can't be everywhere at once, that is where user generated content benefits news outlets. Media sources can pick up on new developments by submissions from citizens or simply by trolling social media, this has opened up a much larger environment to cover.

Furthermore, UGC has narrowed down the news. Now, the public can send in or share local news that otherwise may not get covered.