Tag Archives: Matthew Eltringham

Using news stories on Facebook: what the BBC found

Great post by Claire Wardle and Matthew Eltringham on some research they conducted into how social network users use news. Here are the highlights. Firstly, news as a social object:

“They all saw comment and discussion as a key component of enjoying news on Facebook. They shared and posted stories they were interested in, sure, but also so they could make a point or start a conversation. But the vast majority really only wanted to have that conversation within their own group of friends, partly because that was where they felt comfortable.”

And secondly, it’s all about the niche: Continue reading

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Must user-generated-content threaten quality journalism?

The BBC’s User Generated Content (UGC) Hub does not further meaningful civil participation in the news, and the routine inclusion of UGC does not significantly alter news selection criteria or editorial values. So concludes Jackie Harrison’s study on audience contributions and gatekeeping practices at the BBC.

The study found many of the previous barriers to news selection have been removed or are not applicable to UGC.

“User generated content has been absorbed into BBC newsroom practices and is now routinely considered as an aspect of, or dimension to, many stories. In this sense the traditional barriers which formed the gatekeeping criteria of the 1990s have been altered forever.”

Harrison sees the changes to selection criteria as a real and worrying threat to quality and standards at the public broadcaster. Her study raises interesting questions about the value of UGC and how it should be measured. She fears the growing tendency to utilise audience content, often for convenience, risks an increase in “soft news” at the expense of quality journalism, and worse, the degradation of public knowledge.

Harrison does not see the hub as progressing civil debate or public engagement on a meaningful level, and she anticipates future use of UGC may grow more opportunistic. This is obviously at odds with the active debate and participation the hub set out to foster, and which has dominated previous ideals of audience participation.

Selection and moderation

In an earlier study, Harrison looked at what caused some stories to be used by the BBC and others to be rejected. Here she reinvestigates these reasons in the context of UGC, finding that in many cases UGC can, if not make these previous concerns irrelevant, make the case for automatic rejection less compelling.

While the hub is subject to resource-intensive moderation and methodical processes to ascertain UGC authenticity and quality it is, like all news organisations, still learning how to most effectively utilise audience participation.

There are growing and unresolved tensions for journalists in balancing the BBC’s traditional journalistic standards while fostering open communication, promoting free speech, and at the same time protecting the site and the audience against possible offence.

Inevitably, this gives rise to judgement calls which are necessarily subjective.

Harris suggests two questions then arise from this:

  • Does UGC reflect public opinion and
  • two, are they simply generating noise…of little value, and,
  • is it a public service broadcaster’s job to provide a platform for all sorts of views including unpalatable or unpleasant ‘‘non-majoritarian’’ comment and, if it is not, why not?

BBC journalists told Harrison, “The difficulty with opening up the floodgates to participation is that ‘the full spectrum” of opinions must be considered to further the aims of the ‘global conversation’.”

Should we be concerned, as Harrison seems to be, that material gathered at the hub is not always deemed of particular quality? Or does the value, as Stuart Purvis suggests, lie in the telling, the fact that new and possibly previously unheard voices are given a platform?

We are right to expect quality content from the public broadcaster, but opinions on what that means differ widely.

This can be seen in the debate between Paul Bradshaw and his students, and the BBC staff regarding UGC content and external links. It seems while hub head Matthew Eltringham spoke about the relevance of content, what he was really talking about was quality content. If the BBC opened up linking to contributors’ sites, would it have to do it for all contributors, and what kinds of complications would this pose?

The future of UGC

Perhaps we should not be viewing the growing tendency for “soft journalism” through UGC as a degradation in quality, but part of the evolution of the BBC. Unless of course, it does come at the cost of investigative, serious journalism, which clearly the BBC has a mandate to invest in.

Harrison rightly points out the hub is only one part of the newsroom, but a part that is increasingly relied upon as an additional source of information, shared between departments at the BBC.

What the study doesn’t address is how successful the UGC hub has been in engaging people who have previously not interacted with the BBC, or who have not taken part in public debate in general. I suspect it is unlikely to have encouraged society’s voiceless. We must assume at the least, that people taking part have access to technology, which is of course, one of the major difficulties of the idea of the new electronic, egalitarian public sphere.

The hub does represent a deliberate and conscious effort to seek audience interaction and better serve the public interest, though what this will mean for the BBC, and for the public, in the long-term is still unclear.

It will be interesting to see how the hub develops and where UGC can go. Is Harrison right in predicting it will grow more meaningless or, more drastically, has meaningful civil engagement in the news already met its untimely death, as Steve Borris declared?

The BBC and linking part 2: a call to become curators of context

A highlight of my recent visit with MA Online Journalism students to the BBC’s user generated content hub was the opportunity to ask this question posed by Andy Mabbett via Twitter: ‘Why don’t you link back to people if they send a picture in?’ (audio embedded above and here).

The UGC Hub’s head, Matthew Eltringham, gave this response:

“We credit their picture … we absolutely embrace the principle of linking on and through. I think the question would be – if Andy sends in a picture because he happened to witness a particular event, how relevant is the rest of his content to the audience. I think we’d have to take a view on that.”

It was a highlight because something clicked in my head at this point. You see, we’d spent some of the previous conversation talking about how the UGC hub verifies the reliability of user generated content, and it struck me that this view of the link as content could risk missing a key aspect of linking: context.

In an online environment one of the biggest signals in how we build a picture of the trustworthiness of someone or something is the links surrounding it. Who is that person friends with? What does this website link to? Who gathers here? What do they say? What else does this person do? What is their background, their interests, their beliefs?

All of this is invaluable context to us as users, not just the BBC.

While we increasingly talk about the role of publishers as curators of content [caveat], we should perhaps start thinking about how publishers are also curators of context.

Curators of context

And on this front, the corporation appears to have an enormous culture shift on its hands – a shift that it has been pushing in public for years, with varying degrees of success in different parts of the organisation.

BBC Radio, and many BBC TV programmes, for example, use users’ pictures and tweets and link and credit as a matter of course, while some parts of BBC News do link directly to research papers.

Yesterday I blogged about the frustration of Ben Goldacre at the refusal of parts of the BBC News website to deep link to scientific journal articles. In the comments to Ben’s post, ‘Gimpy’ says that the journalist quoted by Goldacre told him in “early 2008” that linking was “something which must be reviewed”.

In May 2008 the BBC Trust said linking needed major improvements, and in October 2008 the Head of Multimedia said linking to external websites was a vital part of its future.

And this month, the corporation’s latest strategic review pledges:

“to “turn the site into a window on the web” by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly ‘click-throughs’ to external sites: “making the best of what is available elsewhere online an integral part of the BBC’s offer to audiences”.”

Most recently, this week the BBC’s announcement of 25% cuts to its online spend motivated Erik Huggers to make this statement at a DTG conference:

“Why can’t we find a way to take all that traffic and help share it with other public service broadcasters and with other public bodies so that if our boat rises on the tide, everyone’s boat rises on the tide?

“Rather than trying to keep all that traffic inside the BBC’s domain we’re going to link out very aggressively and help other organisations pull their way up on the back of the investments that the BBC has made in this area.”

To be fair, unlike other media organisations, at least the BBC is talking about doing something about linking (and if you want to nag them, here’s their latest consultation).

But please, enough talk already. Auntie, give us the context.

UPDATE: More on the content vs context debate from Kevin Anderson.

UPDATE 2The BBC have started a debate on the issue on their Editors’ Blog

The paradox of the BBC, objectivity, and UGC

Last week I took a group of MA Online Journalism students to visit the BBC’s User Generated Content Hub. It was a hugely informative conversation about how the biggest team of its kind in the world manages an enormous flow of texts, comments, images and other media (If you want to see more, Caroline Beavon has video of the whole thing, while I recorded a couple of Audioboos answering questions posed via Twitter).

As we were discussing the changing nature of the hub – it is increasingly looking to engage with users beyond the core BBC audience – it became apparent that there is a paradox at the heart of what the BBC does here – and by extension, any UGC effort. And it’s a paradox around objectivity and neutrality. Continue reading

The BNP on Question Time: the view from the User Generated Content hub

I put a few questions to Matthew Eltringham from the BBC’s UGC Hub on how the team dealt with comments from users during last night’s controversial Question Time debate featuring the BNP’s Nick Griffin. Here are his responses in full:

How did the volume of contributions to Have Your Say etc. compare with a typical Question Time?

Because of the way we structured the HYS round this QT the statistical comparisons can’t be exact.

This time we ran a programme based messageboard from first thing in the morning; usually it is launched much later in the afternoon. The number of responses to that debate — and the one we set up this morning on the impact of the QT has been extraordinary; an average programme-based QT HYS might get a couple of hundred comments; this one got more than 10,000.

And by 1130 this morning we have already received nearly 2,000 for a new messageboard about the impact — again a very, very big and fast response from the audience.

An interesting statistical comparison is the response to the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to President Obama, when over the same period of time we recieved about the same number of comments – though the audience was a more global audience in that case. And interestingly, we had a bigger response on HYS than any of the big US media organisations in their comment forums.

How did the hub prepare for that – did it do anything special for this broadcast?

We brought in extra staff to cope with the expected work load, especially in the evening around the programme transmission; we also discussed appropriate moderation as we were aware there would be some tricky issues.

How would you describe the balance of reaction that was coming in in terms of pro- and anti-BNP?

There were three clear strands of opinion — those who disagreed with the BBC’s decision to put Nick Griffin on QT; those who articulated their support for Nick Griffin and the BNP; and those who either didn’t offer any view on Griffin/ BNP or said they weren’t supporters but strongly argued that he should be allowed on the programme. This third strand was the largest.

A couple of people suggested that some comments were part of an “organised trolling campaign – the same typos keep recurring in several posts – ‘BMP'” – what is the policy on that? Do you look for repeated IP addresses, or copy & paste jobs?

We have very clear House rules against spamming and if – amongst the 10,000 comments that came in – we detect any organised campaign we would act on that by moderating the spam out. We don’t have any technology to help us with that.

We make it very clear that HYS is a manifestation of the balance of opinion recieved by us, reflecting the views of the members of the audience that wish to contribute. It’s not scientific, nor is it a balanced opinion.

BBC Future of Journalism conference day 2: more reflections (part 1)

The more interesting of the sessions at the BBC’s Future of Journalism conference came on the second day.

Head of BBC Newsroom Peter Horrocks spent most of his session fielding questions from employees concerned about how their particular corner of the corporation would be affected by multimedia newsrooms. That aside, general themes from his presentation and responses to questions included:

  • a need for a broader range of skills, such as information design and software development
  • While strong single-platform performers will be encouraged to continue doing well on that platform, everyone else will be encouraged to work across platforms
  • a need to reach audiences the BBC (and other news organisations) are struggling to engage with, particularly young C2 audiences

User generated content

The second panel, on user generated content, was probably the most interesting of the two days – mainly because it was also the most diverse, including Sky’s Simon Bucks and Paul Hambleton from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation alongside BBC Sport Online’s Claire Stocks, Matthew Eltringham from the BBC’s UGC hub, and Chris Russell from Future Media and Technology. Continue reading