Throughout its history journalism has, to some extent, relied upon reader interaction and input.
Letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and the use of reader photographs and footage have formed a lynchpin of journalistic content for decades.
However, these interactions have always been led by journalists. They’ve always been publication and corporation centric, with the news team themselves asking for people to share their thoughts, opinions, and content on specific pre-selected topics.
The focus, direction, and even scope of this content has been dictated by the news organisation. But this is no longer the case.
As time has progressed and technology has developed, the role journalists and news corporations play in gathering, repurposing, and publishing peoples opinions, videos and images (User Generated Content or UGC) has changed dramatically.
For journalists, it’s become less about encouraging the creation of UGC, and more focused on making the greatest use of the content people produce themselves.
How Tech has Changed Journalism
Due to how people now want to consume news, news organisation are having to adopt the digital first mindset, making online their top priority.
People feel as though they need online channels to stay on top of the breaking news across the world. As such, the modern person is steadily moving away from printed content in favour of digital channels, with the Pew Research Centre reporting nearly 4 in 10 Americans now use digital sources to get the latest news updates.
But the most interesting development technology has brought is not in how people are consuming content, but in how it’s swapped the role of reader and journalist.
Modern people live with an almost always connected mentality. We’re never more than arm’s reach from our phones, tablets, or laptops and we’re constantly updating social channels or sending messages to friends with what’s happening around us.
This continual connection has changed the dynamic of breaking news. The best positioned people for developments in Syria, Florida, or Asia are no longer the well connected news team sat in a London news room.
The first responders from a journalistic perspective are the everyday people on the ground. The people who are pulling out their phones to film breaking news and big developments.
These people have unprecedented access with zero delay. There’s no need to wait for a journalist to arrive on site, for them to relay the information back to the office for approval, and for someone within that office to edit everything accordingly.
The modern person doesn’t just prefer online channels to consume their news, they’re using them to report the news.
For a prime example of this, look no further than Hurricane Irma. People have been taking to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to share exactly how bad the storm was.
All it takes is a few minutes and that content can be put on a platform like Youtube for the world to see.
And that’s the difference. Technology has changed the dynamic of UGC which has, in turn, changed the dynamic of journalism. Very little now begins with the news organisation themselves, but instead is sprouting from individuals across the globe.
People aren’t just favouring digital channels because it’s easier and more convenient, but because these channels bring faster, more accurate updates of developing news.
Leveraging an Always Connected Readership isn’t Easy
In her study for Digital Journalism, Lisette Johnston says,
“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.”
That’s the major issue most news organisations face. They don’t have established processes setup to deal with this new influx of information.
News organisations are used to holding the reins and directing the speed with which news travels through their popular channels. They’re practiced in finding, approaching, and quoting individual sources and weaving their observations into a longer, insightful piece.
They’re used to having a greater degree of control.
Technology has eroded that control. Those same journalists and news organisations are now being bombarded with content from not one source, but from anyone with a phone who happened to be at the epicentre of the story.
Sifting through those updates is an almost insurmountable task. The rapid dissemination of videos and content online can make it difficult to confidently identify a source. A step which, if overlooked, can lead to some embarrassing mistakes.
Mistakes like Ireland’s TV3 reporting CCTV footage from Minsk in 2011 as an up to date video of the Brussels attacks in March 2016.
Johnston’s study echoes this difficulty in qualifying and identifying sources.
The journalists she spoke to admitted organising the immense volume of UGC is an incredible challenge. Not only do journalists have to sort the wheat from the chaff, but then have to verify the content to ensure that it is legitimate.
And during times of extreme danger such as the Brussels attacks, on the ground war reporting, or during a natural disaster finding the original uploader and asking for permission or verification isn’t always a viable option.
The Future of UGC in Journalism
Knowing where to find great UGC and being able to effectively process it are two vastly different things.
Today’s journalists need to be tech savvy. They need to have an unparalleled understanding of the various networks and processes people are using to share content online.
The journalists within Johnston’s study reported that management are embracing the new paradigm of journalistic content through practicing “social media news gathering”.
However, doing so effectively requires a huge time commitment and growing a set of skills journalists don’t always possess.
Johnston finishes with the following “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”.
Journalists have to adapt to the new landscape. And as with most digital channels technology will play a huge part in that development.
UGC Will Continue to Change Journalism
With more and more people turning to digital channels for news consumption there’s a genuine need for news organisations to adopt a digital first mindset.
However, that mindset needs to extend beyond the publication of breaking developments.
Digital first is not about making sure news is available on mobile devices or having a nicely optimised website.
Digital first is about monitoring the various digital channels to establish a symbiotic relationship with your readers. It’s about setting up processes that allow a back and forth between the journalists within an organisation and the readers who could provide them with their next lead.
As tech becomes more complex, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to manage these disparate sources without mass hiring sprees ballooning in house teams. That is, if we continue on the current path of manual collection and sorting.
Technology may have caused the issues this new development has brought, but it can also provide the solution to those problems.
Proper social media monitoring and a thorough collection solution will cut down on the amount of time journalists need to gather relevant information giving them more time to sift, verify, and publish that information at greater speed.
If your team needs a little help in filtering UGC or you’re about to take the plunge and need a little assistance, be sure to get in touch and find out how StoryStream can help.