Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User Generated Content in TV News Output

By Claire Wardle and Sam Dubberley

It is no secret that the use of social media has revolutionized newsrooms, changed journalists’ workflows and pushed news organizations to adapt to new output platforms.  It has, in the past five years, been researched, blogged about and discussed at numerous academic and vocational conferences.

What remains uncharted and understudied, however, is the quantity of User-Generated Content (UGC) that makes up mainstream television news bulletins today – and to what lengths are major news organizations going to ensure that this UGC is correctly verified, sourced and credited.  Anecdotal evidence from newsrooms suggests that the use of UGC has become widespread due to the proliferation of smart-phones, and the subsequent uploading of photographs and videos to social media platforms. But news managers and editors of the major global broadcasters have not been asked how they perceive and use UGC, for what stories they use it, for what stories they don’t and how it’s changed their newsrooms.

That’s what the Tow Center of Digital Journalism’s research project “Amateur Footage: A global study of User Generated Content in TV news output” will investigate; specifically the integration of User Generated Content (UGC) in news output in television broadcasts and their associated websites.

Looking at the output of eight international news channels (BBC World, CNN International, Euronews, France 24, Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera English, NHK World and NTN24), it will produce a systematic quantitative analysis of the amount of UGC being included as part of television news reports.

This is required to provide a benchmark to monitor whether reliance on UGC in news output increases in the next decade. Furthermore, news managers and editors from more than 30 different broadcasters across the globe will be interviewed to understand if, how and why they use this type of footage in their output.

This research is not only necessary to understand the direction in which news casting is moving. It is also important in order to encourage more debate about the issues raised by user generated content, such as workflow, verification, rights, payment and ethics.

From our own personal experience of working with different newsrooms, it is clear there are widely varying standards and working practices around UGC.  Many newsrooms are still ignorant about how they can and should integrate it into their broadcasts. This study aims to provide some sense of what is happening across the world, and our goal is for it to act as a starting point for developing guidelines around best practice.

We’ll be blogging about the project over the next eight months, and hope to provide early findings as we go, and would love suggestions and comments so we can tweak and moderate research questions along the way. And if you work in a TV newsroom and would like to be interviewed as part of this project, please do get in touch. We operate under academic standards of confidentiality, and the greater the participation  participation by practitioners, the more insight it will bring to the research.

Read the Tow Center’s  announcement post here. 

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 @samdubberley. To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen: