Tag Archives: forums

Virginia Tech shooting: another citizen journalism milestone?

Poynter Online has a mind-boggling roundup of how students at Virginia Tech have told their story through mobile video, blogs, and forums. Unlike previous user generated content milestones like 9/11 and the Asian tsunami, this story took place in the heart of the new media generation, and the resulting coverage is more comprehensive, more accessible, and takes in more new media forms, including social networking. “Look at this collection from CNN’s I-Report.,” urges Poynter:

“Students text messaged one another while hiding under desks. Read some of those messages here.

Some students are gathering on Facebook. CollegeMedia.com has a collection of cell pictures taken by students. More than 150 tribute groups have formed on Facebook.

“Other students went right to their blogs and wrote about what they saw.”

As this generation ages it’s reasonable to expect such coverage to become the norm, and this presents two challenges for journalists: 1) the need to develop the awareness of, and skills to find, this material; 2) in the face of such comprehensive and accessible first-person reporting, the need to develop new roles, perhaps as gatewatchers, facilitators and filters rather than reporters.

Then there’s a third issue: ethics. When reporting on the MySpace and Facebook content of murdered students, how far can journalists go? Is it OK to quote dead students’ ‘About Me’ sections? Channel 5 did so last night, including one who was summed up by her favourite flavour of ice cream and the fact that her “favourite colour is blue”.

Tony Harcup, a writer on journalism ethics, told me “my gut reaction is that it is perfectly acceptable to quote from the About Me sections that people have placed in the public domain. It’s not as if a journalist has broken into a dead person’s house and stolen their private diary.” But when we live our lives in the public domain, do our virtual selves have different rights? I have no answers, I’m just posing the question.

UPDATE: Shane Richmond includes these points in his blog. He slightly misunderstands my second point above, and I’ve posted a comment clarifying this.

UPDATE 2 (Apr 21 07): I’ve posted a further post on the ethics issue.

BBC, UGC and online video

Some insights into the workings of the BBC, UGC and online video from Shane Richmond’s latest post:

“At a time when most newspapers, including this one, are trying to encourage user participation and comments on their sites, the BBC is questioning the need to host those conversations.

“Instead they’re linking their content out to the likes of YouTube, Flickr, Technorati and del.icio.us. Encourage the conversation but let it happen elsewhere.

“The burden of moderation is simply too great. Like us, the BBC moderates comments received from readers, mostly for legal reasons, but as Tom pointed out: “What we call moderation, readers call censorship.”

“The more successful you are at attracting reader responses, he explained, the bigger the problem gets.”


“One week in November last year, the BBC news site published around 500 pieces of video.

“Analysing the traffic for those clips later, they found that just 30 of them accounted for about half the traffic. They have learned some lessons about what type of video clips work online but mostly they learned to focus on doing less better.”

Defining and conceptualising interactivity

A conversation with a radio colleague yesterday about a new course that I’m involved in – a Masters in Television and Interactive Content – threw up the question of how people define interactivity.

“What you mean by interactivity is probably not what I think of,” he said.

“I see interactivity as giving the user control,” I replied.

“Well OK then, we both think of interactivity in the same way. But to most people interactivity is video on the web and flashy things, which couldn’t be less interactive.”

I began thinking about this idea of how you define interactivity. “Giving the user control” is a nice summary, but what does that mean? How do you conceptualise it to make the process easier? Rolling it over in my head I’ve come up with two dimensions along which interactivity operates. Firstly:

  • Time: where broadcast required the user to be present at a particular time, and print to wait for the next edition, technologies such as Sky+, podcasts, mobile phones and websites allow the audience to consume at a time convenient to them. The PDF newspaper is an interesting development that also allows readers to avoid the dependence on print cycles.
  • Space: where television required the user to be physically present in front of a static set, mobile phones, mp3 players and portable mpeg players and wifi laptops allow the audience to consume in a space convenient to them. Portable radio and portable newspapers have always had this advantage.

Both these seem to be about hardware, and miniaturisation. The second level of interactivity is more about software:

  • Control over output: With linear media like TV, radio and print, the consumer relies on the ability of the producer, editor, etc. to structure how content is presented, or output. New media allows the audience to take some of that control.
    • At a basic level, for instance, hyperlinks allow the reader to dictate their experience of ‘content’.
    • With online video and audio, the user can pause, fast-forward, etc. – and if it has been split into ‘chunks’, the user can choose which bit of a longer video or audio piece they experience.
    • RSS, meanwhile, allows users to create their own media product, combining feeds from newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers, and even del.icio.us tags or Google News search terms.
    • Database-driven content allows the user to shape output based on their input – e.g. by entering their postcode they can read content specific to their area. At a general level search engines would be another example.
    • And Flash interactives allow the user to influence output in a range of ways. This may be as simple as selecting from a range of audio, video, text and still image options. It may be playing a game or quiz, where their interaction (e.g. what answers they get right, how they perform) shapes the output they experience.
  • Control over input: Again, the old media model was one that relied on the producer, editor, etc. to decide on the editorial agenda, and create the products. The audience may have had certain avenues of communication – the letter to the editor; the radio phone-in; the ‘Points of View‘. The new media model, as Dan Gillmor points out, is one that moves from a lecture to a conversation. So:
    • Blogs, podcasts, vlogs, YouTube, MySpace, etc. allow the audience to publish their own media
    • Forums, message boards, chatrooms and comments on mainstream media blogs allow the audience to discuss and influence the content of mainstream media, as well as engaging with each other, bypassing the media
    • Live chats with interviewees and media staff do the same.
    • User generated content/citizen journalism sees mainstream publishers actively seeking out input from consumers, from emails to mobile phone images, video and audio.
    • Wikis allow the audience to create their own collaborative content, which may be facilitated by mainstream media
    • Social recommendation software like del.icio.us, Digg, etc. allow users to influence the ‘headline’ webpages through bookmarking and tags.
    • A similar but separate example is how page view statistics can be used by publishers to rank content by popularity (often displayed side by side with the editorial view of what are the ‘top stories’)
    • I hesitate to add the last example but I will anyway: email. Although we could always, in theory, contact producers and editors by telephone, they didn’t publish their numbers on the ten o’clock news. Email addresses, however, are printed at the end of articles; displayed on screen alongside news reports; read out on radio; and of course displayed online.

I’m sure I’ve missed examples, or entire other dimensions. If you have an input to make, comment away.

Multimedia journalism winners, iPOY 2007

Mindy McAdams has the list of multimedia winners from iPOY 2007. Some stunning material here – the intro alone of The Dallas Morning News’ “Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later” is enough to bring you to tears, combining still images with audio from the survivors. Once you’ve recovered, you can look at slideshows, video, more combined audio/imagery, and even old-fashioned links. Combining still images with audio seems to be quite common judging by the other entries, including “The Lifeline”by the Los Angeles Times, which gets my vote for combining those ‘audio slideshows’ with a messageboard and graphics.

Young journalists should be salivating at the possibilities for engaging storytelling represented by these new technologies…

Pay if you want a voice

That seems to be the subtext of Pearson chief executive Dame Marjorie Scardino’s statement,  as the Guardian reports that FT.com is likely to continue to rely on subscription revenues:

“As debate online has become more diffuse – hundreds of thousands or millions of voices on each topic – it has become less helpful in a way,” she said. “The trend now online seems to be some sort of mediation and we think we might have a role there.”

[…] “she said that the 90,000 subscribers to FT.com represent a “rarified audience” including senior figures in business and politics across the world and “We have found that to some extent with the quality of audience we have got we can provoke the discussion”.”

And to think some people used to dream that the internet would give a voice to those without power…