Journalism Changed Forever By User Generated Content

Journalism Changed Forever By User Generated Content
By Marita Eleftheriadou

The rise of user generated content (UGC), information submitted by members of the public or posted on social media, has changed journalism forever, according to a new study in Digital Journalism.

As the author of this study, Lisette Johnston from City University in London, explains: “As more news organizations move towards becoming ‘digital first’, the skills journalists are expected to possess have changed significantly. They must become more ‘tech savvy’. As a result, the skills needed from newsroom staff as well as the journalist role itself are being redefined.”

To better understand the evolution of journalism in the age of social media, Johnston studied how journalists from BBC World News integrated user generated content into their reports on the conflict in Syria. She studied hours of video as well as interviewed reporters and newsroom staff.

As expected, user generated content formed a large part of the material she studied. More than half of the 35 reports or ‘news packages’ on Syria she analyzed opened with a UGC clip. She also found that the amount of this content integrated by BBC journalists increased as the conflict wore on and as the reporters found access to the country more challenging. The peak of usage of UGC was linked with large scale protests and violence.

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But the increasing amount of UGC used by BBC journalists was only part of the story. The journalists to whom Johnson spoke said they felt “they had to harness a variety of new skills to enable them to ‘harvest’ content shared on digital platforms”. Moreover, they found themselves actively engaged in “social media newsgathering” across multiple platforms when searching for images, contacts and eyewitnesses. This practice was encouraged by their managers too.

Johnston’s contacts also admitted that it took time to become “social news savvy” and to develop a “more forensic” approach to their work. Shifting through the immense volume of UGC posted online posed a huge challenge, as did verifying what was chosen. This task was made even more difficult in a war zone, where contacting the author of the footage could put their life at risk. As a result, journalists had to become detectives when verifying materials found online and even if they weren’t directly responsible for the actual verification, they had to learn how to use UGC appropriately in terms of attribution, labeling and caveats.

As for the future, Johnston concludes that “being capable of processing UGC and being able to navigate social media platforms which audiences inhabit are becoming core skills which journalists need to possess and maintain”. In other words, in a “social” world, journalists must now adapt to not being the only ones telling the story.

Note: The full article by Lisettte Johnston to which this text is referring can be found online.

Marita Eleftheriadou is a Senior Marketing Executive at Taylor & Francis Group.