Tag Archives: user generated content

Hyperlocal Voices: Geoff Bowen, Sheffield Forum

Sheffield Forum

For the latest in our Hyperlocal Voices series, Damian Radcliffe talks to Geoff Bowen the Founder of the Sheffield Forum. Now one of the UK’s largest forums, the site launched just over 10 years ago.

During that time it has attracted considerable amounts of traffic and a huge archive of community discussions. With over 150,000 registered users and up to 500,000 unique visitors every month, there are now more than 6.4m posts on SheffieldForum.co.uk, and this is increasing at a rate of around 2,000 per day.

In a social media age, what Geoff’s experience shows is that forums continue to offer a highly relevant means for local communities to come together and communicate.

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20 free ebooks on journalism (for your Xmas Kindle) {updated to 64}

Journalism 2.0 cover

As many readers of this blog will have received a Kindle for Christmas I thought I should share my list of the free ebooks that I recommend stocking up on.

Online journalism and multimedia ebooks

Starting with more general books, Mark Briggs‘s book Journalism 2.0 (PDF*) is now 4 years old but still provides a good overview of online journalism to have by your side. Mindy McAdams‘s 42-page Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency (PDF) adds some more on that front, and Adam Westbrook‘s Ideas on Digital Storytelling and Publishing (PDF) provides a larger focus on narrative, editing and other elements.

After the first version of this post, MA Online Journalism student Franzi Baehrle suggested this free book on DSLR Cinematography, as well as Adam Westbrook on multimedia production (PDF). And Guy Degen recommends the free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking from ImageJunkies.com.

The Participatory Documentary Cookbook [PDF] is another free resource on using social media in documentaries.

A free ebook on blogging can be downloaded from Guardian Students when you register with the site, and Swedish Radio have produced this guide to Social Media for Journalists (in English).

The Traffic Factories is an ebook that explores how a number of prominent US news organisations use metrics, and Chartbeat’s role in that. You can download it in mobi, PDF or epub format here.

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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 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

Technology is not a strategy: it's a tool

Here’s another draft section from the book chapter on UGC I’m currently writing I’ve written which I’d welcome your input on. I’m particularly interested in any other objectives you can think of that news organisations have for using UGC – or the strategies adopted to achieve those.

A common mistake made when first venturing into user generated content is to focus on the technology, rather than the reasons for using it. “We need to have our own social network!” someone shouts. But why? And, indeed, how do you do so successfully?

A useful framework to draw on when thinking about how you approach UGC is the POST process for social media strategy outlined by Forrester Research (Bernoff, 2007). This involves identifying:

  1. People: who are your audience (or intended audience), and what social media (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, forums, etc.) do they use? Equally important, why do they use social media?
  2. Objectives: what do you want to achieve through using UGC
  3. Strategy: how are you going to achieve that? How will relationships with users change?
  4. Technology: only when you’ve explored the first three steps can you decide which technologies to use

Some common objectives for UGC and strategies associated with those are listed below:

Objective Example UGC strategies
Users spend longer on our site
  • Give users something to do around content, e.g. comments, vote, etc.
  • Find out what users want to do with UGC and allow them to do that on-site
  • Acknowledge and respond to UGC
  • Showcase UGC on other platforms, e.g. print, broadcast
  • Create a positive atmosphere around UGC – prevent aggressive users scaring others away
Attract more users to our site
  • Help users to promote their own and other UGC
  • Allow users to cross-publish UGC from our site to others and vice versa
  • Allow users to create their own UGC from our own raw or finished materials
Get to the stories before our competitors
  • Monitor UGC on other sites
  • Monitor mentions of keywords such as ‘earthquake’, etc.
  • Become part of and contribute to online UGC communities
  • Provide live feeds pulling content from UGC sites*
Increase the amount of content on our site
  • Make it easy for users to contribute material to the site
  • Make it useful
  • Make it fun
  • Provide rewards for contributing – social or financial
Improve the editorial quality of our work
  • Provide UGC space for users to highlight errors, contribute updates
  • Ensure that we attract the right contributors in terms of skills, expertise, contacts, etc.
  • Involve users from the earliest stages of production

Can you add any more? What strategies have you used around UGC?

UPDATE: ‘Pursue the goal, not the method‘ by Chris Brogan puts this concept well in broader terms.

What is User Generated Content?

The following is a brief section from a book I’m writing I’ve written on online journalism. I’m publishing it here to invite your thoughts on anything you think I might be missing…

There is a long history of audience involvement in news production, from letters to the editor and readers’ photos, to radio and television phone-ins, and texts from viewers being shown at the bottom of the screen.

For many producers and editors, user generated content is seen – and often treated – as a continuation of this tradition. However, there are two key features of user generated content online that make it a qualitatively different proposition.

Firstly, unlike print and broadcast, on the web users do not need to send something to the mainstream media for it to be distributed to an audience: a member of the public can upload a video to YouTube with the potential to reach millions. They can share photos with people all over the world. They can provide unedited commentary on any topic they choose, and publish it, regularly, on a forum or blog.

Quite often they are simply sharing with an online community of other people with similar interests. But sometimes they will find themselves with larger audiences than a traditional publisher because of the high quality of the material, its expertise, or its impact.

Indeed, one of the challenges for media organisations is to find a way to tap into blog platforms, forums, and video and photo sharing websites, rather than trying to persuade people to send material to their news websites as well. For some this has meant setting up groups on the likes of Flickr, LinkedIn and Facebook to communicate with users on their own territory.

The second key difference with user generated content online is that there are no limitations on the space that it can occupy. Indeed, whole sites can be given over to your audience and, indeed, are. The Telegraph, Sun and Express all host social networks where readers can publish photos and blog posts, and talk on forums. The Guardian’s CommentIsFree website provides a platform where dozens of non-journalist experts blog about the issues of the day. And an increasing number of regional newspapers provide similar spaces for people to blog their analysis of local issues under their news brand, while numerous specialist magazines host forums with hundreds of members exchanging opinions and experiences every day. On the multimedia side, Sky and the BBC provide online galleries where users can upload hundreds of photos and videos.

The term User Generated Content itself is perhaps too general a term to be particularly useful to journalists. It can refer to anything from a comment posted by a one-time anonymous website visitor, to a 37-minute documentary that one of your readers spent ten years researching. The most accurate definition might simply be that user generated content is “material your organisation has not commissioned and paid for”. In which case, most of the time when we’re talking about UGC,we need to talk in more specific terms.

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Guardian the most bookmarked newspaper on delicious

The Guardian has more URLs bookmarked on Delicious than any other UK newspaper, as I first revealed here (with the original video here)

There are 10,914 Guardian URLs bookmarked, with the Times coming 2nd (3,944) and the Independent in 3rd place (3,196).

Newspaper
website
Bookmarks on Delicious
Guardian 10,914
Times Online 3,944
The Independent 3,196
Telegraph 2,258
The Sun 1,409
FT 1,303
Daily Mail 785
Mirror 624
Express 197

Quarkbase must be using the Delicious API but it doesn’t say where it gets the number. Click the papers’ name to see the Quarkbase figures (and more).