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The Journey to Marrakech, Morocco for the News Xchange Conference

As part of our Tow Center funded research on UGC in broadcast news, we were in Marrakech, Morocco last week for the News Xchange conference.

We were there interviewing journalists and senior managers about how UGC is integrated within their newsrooms.

Now it’s early days, but after five hours of interviews with 12 senior managers and journalists from news organisations in Algeria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia, Japan and the UK, the overwhelming finding is that UGC is treated very differently in almost every newsroom.

In our interviews we asked the following questions:

How does your newsrooms discover UGC during breaking news events?

For which types of stories do you tend to use UGC?

Do you credit uploaders? do you pay uploaders?

Are there specialised teams within the newsroom?

Are there verification or ethical guidelines shared with the news team?

Are there training programmes for working with UGC?

Are journalists viewing graphic UGC offered trauma support?

The answers were fascinating, but most astonishing was that none of the newsrooms described to us, uses UGC in the same way. We expected variance, but nothing to compare with the answers we heard.

Already, at this early stage, the difference in approaches to using UGC across the industry was apparent – with few organisations having dedicated UGC desks and guidelines for usage. There are also clear differences in how broadcasters approach domestic and international stories – with many putting trust in external partners for international UGC content that they refuse to do domestically. One broadcaster, for instance, has a rule of not using UGC on domestic stories, preferring in all cases to send its own reporters to the site of a news story, rather than accept content from elsewhere.

Possibly surprisingly, several broadcasters have no strict procedure or written guidelines for dealing with UGC – although there was certainly the feeling that a change was coming on that front.

The role of the News Agencies in providing trustworthy UGC also became very apparent throughout the interviews, and it’s clear we need to undertake a much deeper investigation of the ways in which Reuters, AP and AFP work with UGC, as they appear to be significant gatekeepers for many news organisations.

As an initial feeling, we felt that there was a definite consensus amongst those interviewed so far, that while UGC plays an ever-increasing role in news bulletins, it is a first response, a holding move when covering developing news situations that will not replace the role of the trained, objective journalist. As one interviewee told us, “I think it’s a good first response and I don’t think for one minute that this is in any way a substitute for having journalists and producers in the field making judgment calls and telling the story in the way they are trained to do.”

When doing qualitative research like this, the rule is that you keep asking questions until you reach the ‘saturation point.’ We’re nowhere near that point yet, and we still hope to complete another 50 or so interviews with journalists from all over the world, from commercial and public service broadcasters.

The next phase of our research starts on Monday.

We will start our quantitative content analysis, which involves recording 80 hours of output from eight 24 hour news channels. When the recording is over we will have 640 hours of television news to watch. While it won’t be the easiest task, at the end of it we will have some concrete numbers about how much UGC is appearing on our screens, as well as some sore eyes.

Wish us luck!

Claire Wardle and Sam Dubberley are Tow Fellows working on the Tow Center’s AMATEUR FOOTAGE: A Global Study of User Generated Content in TV News Output at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Single-Subject News Network is a project made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The goal of AMATEUR FOOTAGE: A Global Study of User Generated Content in TV News Output is a global study into the integration of User Generated Content (UGC) in news output in television broadcasts and online. Follow Claire Wardle on Twitter @cward1e and follow Sam Dubberley on Twitter @samdubberleyTo learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen: taylor.owen@columbia.edu.