Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content

Why are Credits Not Added?

Interviewees offered a number of explanations for why most newsrooms are not systematically crediting UGC: ignorance and confusion from journalists and uploaders about rights; reliance on the news agencies; technological barriers; the pressure of breaking news situations; concerns about the screen clutter caused by crediting; and unease about crediting certain organizations, especially within the Syrian context.

  1. Ignorance It was quite evident that many journalists and news managers don’t understand why crediting UGC is necessary and certainly don’t consider it a legal requirement. As one very senior manager declared, “We don’t credit Reuters. We don’t credit AP’s pictures, so why would we credit user-generated content when there is no requirement for us to do so? I’m not quite sure what’s the point of the credit. Is it to make somebody feel better about the fact that their material is out there?” Someone who does training at different newsrooms shared stories of many journalists asking, “If it’s on YouTube and it’s not a private video then we can use it, right? If it has been on Facebook and it has been publicly posted, then we can use it, yes?” Another editor explained that part of the issue here is the lack of systemized practice in terms of how UGC is used and credited, noting that every conversation with an uploader is different: It all depends, you might phone somebody up and say, “Can we use that video from YouTube?” And they’ll say, “No problem.” We’ll ask if they need a credit, and they’ll say, “No, just use it.” The next person you call, they’ll say, ``I only want [the photo] on one bulletin. I don’t

want to see it anywhere else, and I need credit.” Or they may have already burnt a credit in, and they’ll say, “I don’t want you to obscure my credit.” It’s very different depending on whom you speak to. Even when newsrooms have crediting guidelines, they aren’t what we expected. One newsroom in Europe has clear guidelines that neither usernames nor real names can be used. Instead, the policy is that UGC should all be labeled: “Source: Internet.” Some newsrooms have formal guidelines on crediting, and others suggested that while it isn’t written down, there is an understanding of what journalists and producers should be doing. The most common answer, however, was: “I don’t honestly know whether we have guidelines.” Considering the number of pieces of content that weren’t credited, there is certainly a disconnect between what newsrooms think they should be doing, what managers think is happening, and what is actually happening. 2. Role of the Agencies One of the standout findings from our research is how reliant newsrooms are on news agencies for discovering, verifying, and clearing the rights for using UGC. However, for many newsrooms, when a piece of UGC enters the newsroom via one of the traditional agencies or similar sources (e.g., AP, Reuters, AFP, Eurovision News Exchange) most journalists are unaware they’re working with UGC; instead, they think of it as agency “vision.” As one journalist admitted, “We always name any photo that doesn’t belong to the agencies.” Others said that any vision from an agency wouldn’t be credited as a matter of course. Given this blind reliance, the practices of the agencies themselves regarding crediting are a crucial part of this equation. The AP always includes the name of its contents’ uploader, and any information it has about them. In the case of Syria, the AP names the activist group and describes the type of group they are, plus their affiliation. Storyful, and by extension Eurovi sion which uses UGC sourced from Storyful, includes mandatory crediting information. However, just because the need for onscreen crediting is spelled out on the dopesheet,32 one senior AP manager admitted, “We can’t guarantee that our clients will implement it.” Reuters, by comparison, does not name sources. It lists the source of UGC as “social media website.” Employees explained that if they source material on the ground from a citizen journalist or accidental journalist via one of Reuters’ staff, they name them as a source because someone will have spoken to them and made a connection. But when something is sourced from the social Web, even though Reuters will have emailed the uploader to secure permission, one of the senior editors explained: [To us] this is still a social media video. We were not present in the room with [the uploader], we have no prior relationship with that person, so all our social media videos carry “Material was obtained from a social media website...” It is a disclaimer. The source is “Social media website.” … So for Reuters, our whole reputation depends on our reporters and our camera people being on the spot or us having a close relationship with the broadcaster who was on the spot. We don’t have that with the vast majority of UGC that we use, so we can’t say that... They might write it, “Yes, I am the copyright holder. Yes, I shot it; it was quarter to four in the morning,” but they could be lying. AFP follows this model and doesn’t provide details about the uploader. This is, therefore, one of the clearest reasons why so much of the UGC we examined as part of this project was not credited. Most broadcasters rely very heavily, and in some cases entirely, on the news agencies to supply UGC. If the uploader information is not available via two of the largest agencies, this explains why uploader information was not added onscreen. Relying on agencies distances the newsrooms from uploaders themselves. Our hypothesis is that by communicating with someone involved in a breaking news situation, you are much more likely to think about giving

them credit. When you are removed from that process, and the pictures simply look like any other vision in your gallery, the fact that it’s UGC gets lost and the related processes that should be followed get lost as well. 3. Newsroom Processes There are many explanations why credits aren’t added, but the reality of outputting news demonstrates how difficult it currently is. As one producer explained, “I think it’s a combination of workflow, technology, the way different bits of kit talk to each other or don’t talk to each other, and the pressure of breaking news.” Since the digitalization of newsrooms, Media Asset Management (MAM) systems have become central to newsrooms’ workflow. They are used among other tasks to prepare rundowns, write scripts, edit video, create on-air captions and, critically here, collate and distribute metadata for content ingested by the organization as a whole. This includes UGC received in all the forms discussed above. Metadata is the text data either written by an organization to accompany its own-shot video, or distributed by an agency. This includes the storyline; a precise shot list to describe the video; information such as data and location shot; and restrictions, such as crediting requirements, time of use embargoes, and so on. While MAMs facilitate the sharing of content across newsrooms, allowing any journalist to access, edit, and bring content to air, they have developed without additional considerations for UGC ingest. They are designed so the metadata, or dopesheet, travels with the content to journalists’ desks. This has been particularly important for organizations with a large amount of output channels, such as the BBC. However, the MAM developers have not yet found a failsafe way to ensure that metadata and restrictions—so crucial for UGC—always accompany the content.

The BBC’s MAM system, Jupiter, has a simple traffic light system to indicate to journalists what content they can and cannot use. Green indicates BBC content that is free to use across all output. Red is content that is not accessible for a variety of reasons (embargoed, etc.). Amber is content received from outside the BBC that can be used, but subject to checks. This includes all content received from the agencies, as well as UGC. One intake editor at the BBC highlighted a piece of UGC that showed students attacking Prince Charles’ car during protests in London in 2010. He noted that any journalist who really wants to use content can do so—even if it’s marked red in the Jupiter system—admitting, “You can do as much metadata and marking [as you like], but if there’s someone really determined and they want to use that material, they can.” Another journalist at the BBC also noted how the traffic light color disappears when transferring video from Jupiter to the BBC’s main editing system. If a producer wishes to edit a large amount of content and didn’t note restrictions before transferring a collection of packages to the BBC’s editing system, it would be impossible to know after what content carries what restriction. He noted that while experienced producers did not necessarily fall foul of this, it was an easy mistake to make for junior producers, which can lead to crediting information not being carried forward into the gallery. Another producer noted, “Even though we try and make it absolutely important so it’s flagged up in Jupiter, and it says MUST CREDIT in bold or whatever, somehow that information doesn’t travel with the video.” Some of the people we interviewed spoke with real knowledge about how technical changes need to be made if there is any hope of practices changing. One example involved the visual templates producers choose for output: The default [template], especially in a breaking news scenario, is to use a full-frame still, which has no room for a credit, which then tends to get used for hours. There is a template for a full-frame still, which has a space to fill in a name and location, or name and date,

etc. So we could do with a rule that a producer using UGC should use this template, in the first instance, and this would then only have to be changed if someone didn’t want to be named. The same rule could apply to video, as there’s an info tab where you can fill in the “video courtesy of” field which appears on the top right of the story. Others admitted that when you’re getting ready to edit a package, you pull down all the vision you might use into the editing software. In the final cut, you end up only using a small percentage of all the images you pulled down, but if the credits aren’t burned on at that stage, they get lost in that process as a stretched producer isn’t going to go back and search out the credits and apply them retroactively. Some organizations have been working on this problem to assist journalists in attending to the information carried in metadata. RUV of Iceland, for instance, has been exploring ways with its developers to transport metadata and burn crediting directly into the video through its transcoders; there is awareness at the BBC that more needs to be done technically with MAM systems to help journalists avoid metadata errors. 4. Screen Clutter The aesthetics of crediting was a recurring theme. The attitude of certain editors came up often, including this quote: “We don’t credit, it’s not our style.” One producer explained, “A lot of senior editors don’t like the way a name under a photo looks. If the name is really long, they think it looks messy. They’ll say, ‘Can’t you just make it look short like AFP/YouTube?’ ” Another senior manager asked whether crediting has any point when it appears and disappears so quickly from a TV screen.

Let’s say there’s 20 pictures of a helicopter crash. Do you need to label every single one of them? What would be the point of that? I don’t think [crediting] always has to happen. Even if you put “picture by Joe Bloggs,” find a member of the audience 10 seconds later who knows who took that picture. He went on to discuss the differences between online and television viewers. Online, people can stop and take time to look at credits, but on television he offered the theory that there was little point in crediting as the credit was on screen for such a short space of time. Audience research is clearly needed here. Very little is known about how audiences respond to the aesthetics of television broadcasts. Do onscreen credits upset the viewer? Ultimately, however, this discussion about aesthetics completely ignores the legal implications of this issue. 5. The Complexities of Syria Certainly content from Syria caused the most discomfort in terms of crediting, even from people who were the biggest advocates of the practice. Our interviewees explained that the increasingly elaborate logos watermarked onto content uploaded by Syrian activist groups did not signify anything to the audience. However, they also felt uncomfortable spelling out the names of these groups, because their motivation for sharing these videos was clearly political. As one journalist explained, “I wouldn’t be overly concerned about crediting activist groups in Syria in that way because the issue is, in my mind, not about credit. Basically, they are campaigning to show the world what’s happened.” Another agreed: “Mentioning the channel doesn’t mean anything for the audience. You can say it’s Shaam News Network; it’s not relevant anymore, because they don’t want the credits, they just want to air their video.”