The future of journalism is err… UGC?

September 10th, 2009

I deplore the term user generated content – it somehow brings to mind used condoms to me. I write this as because, what we call things is important as that language frames how we interpret the world around us.

The Future of Journalism Conference: The newsroom view of user content sort of got my pip.

Research into journalists’ views of the contributions made by website users found that many consider it a distraction from doing the “real job” of journalism.

In the UK, both BBC News and the regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press were studied by academics who presented their findings at the Future of Journalism Conference at Cardiff University this afternoon.

Although mainly concerned with users’ comments on news stories, the User Generated Content also included video clips and pictures submitted to the news organisations.

Jane Singer of the University of Central Lancashire said the replies revealed the journalists felt strongly they needed to be the gatekeepers of that content, and had skills which the general public didn’t possess to enable them to do that.

The issue is that the role of journalist becomes manifold in the networked society. The description of this particular discussion at the conference to me suggests that their is little understanding of co-creation

The BBC study was carried out in 2007 by a team from Cardiff University including Dr Andy Williams, who said even the name of the journalists’ training programme – Have They Got News For You! – was indiciative of the mismatch of the potential collaboration and the “old media” reality.

He said the training at that time mainly consisted of learning to spot a hoax and contained almost nothing about collaborative networked journalism, with the then editor Peter Horrocks describing the process as “sorting wheat from chaff”.

I remember speaking at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston in January 2007 – the knowledge of the effects of digital communications and the meta forces driving the current communications revolution seemed non-existant. It was the year that the Johnston Press created a chair for research.

Apparently the beeb as caught up, they call it the “BBC UGC hub” of 23 journalists now based in the heart of the newsroom and dealing with 10-20,000 emails a day. Dr Claire Wardle was quoted as saying

Now, every day on the hub there’s a core team out on Flickr and Twitter looking for news stories, going to where the conversation is taking place rather than waiting for it to come to them. The hub has an awareness of how it (social media) works, and is trying to get the rest of the BBC to take it on board.

Bravo – but please, pretty please with sugar on top – don’t use the term UGC. We are not users, like consumers, we are people. We all exist on the same planet and we all breathe the same air.

Remember what you call things is important. Like the words irrelevant, or obsolescent, or even broadersheet.

Did they discuss trust @ the conference in relation to co-creation of news, or even investigative journalism, and how it manifests itself when you allow people to embrace what they create. I am not saying its a free for all. But lets be honest – what is the standard of professional local journalism today? Judging my my local rag, The Cambridge Evening news, we are still in the “read all about it” age. Maybe I am being unfair, but maybe I am not.

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