Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content

Executive Summary

Aim of Research The aim of this research is to provide the first comprehensive report about the use of user-generated content (UGC) among broadcast news channels. Its objectives are to understand how much UGC is used on air and online by these channels, why editors and journalists choose to use it, and under what conditions it is employed. The study intends to provide a holistic understanding of the use of UGC by international broadcast news channels. Methodology This research was carried out in two phases. The first involved an in-depth, quantitative content analysis examining when and how eight international news broadcasters use UGC. For this part of the research we analyzed a total of 1,164 hours of TV output and 2,254 Web pages, coding them according to parameters intended to answer the research questions. The second phase of the research was entirely qualitative. It was designed to build upon the first phase by providing a detailed overview of the professional practices that underpin the collection, verification, and distribution of UGC. To achieve this we conducted 64 interviews with news managers, editors, and journalists from 38 news organizations based in 24 countries around the world. This report brings together both phases of the research to provide a detailed overview of the key findings.

Research Questions This research was designed to answer two key research questions: 1. When and how is UGC used by broadcast news organizations, on air as well as online? 2. Does the integration of UGC into output cause any particular issues for news organizations? What are those issues and how do they handle them? Principle Findings The key findings from our content study were:

  • UGC is used by news organizations daily and can produce stories that otherwise would not, or could not, be told. However, it is often used only when other imagery is not available.

  • News organizations are poor at acknowledging when they are using UGC and worse at crediting the individuals responsible for capturing it. Our data showed that:

  • 72 percent of UGC was not labeled or described as UGC.

  • Just 16 percent of UGC on TV had an onscreen credit.

  • There are more similarities than differences across television and Web output, but troubling practices exist across both platforms.

  • The best use of UGC was online, mostly because the Web provides opportunities for integrating UGC into news output like live blogs and topic pages.

The key findings to emerge from our interviews were:

  • News managers are often unaware of the complexities involved in the everyday work of discovering, verifying, and clearing rights for UGC. Consequently, staff in many newsrooms do not receive the training and support required to develop these skills.

  • With newsrooms under ever-increasing pressure, it is important that there are systematic procedures in place to provide clear guidance to output editors about which checks have been completed, and the level of confirmation regarding specific facts about footage.

  • There is a significant dependence on agencies to discover and verify UGC. Many newsrooms, particularly national news organizations, receive their UGC solely from agencies; often unaware of the content’s origin, they don’t realize that they are even using UGC, and think of it all simply as “agency footage.” Conclusions

  • The rise of UGC means many journalists’ roles will change. Rather than being the sole bearers of truth, journalists will be required to allow more space for people to tell their own stories directly. News organizations must therefore face up to the challenge of deciding how best to manage this change.

  • Crediting practices need to improve; it will not be long before an uploader takes a news organization to court for using content without permission or for failing to attribute due credit. The result of any such case would have wide-reaching implications for the news industry.

  • As high-value UGC is increasingly licensed in the immediate aftermath of breaking news events, newsrooms should get used to paying for this content.

  • When putting out calls for action, newsgatherers need to use language that leaves uploaders without doubt that they must not, under any circumstances, put themselves at personal risk for the sake of capturing newsworthy UGC. Where required, training should be provided in this area.

  • News managers very quickly need to understand the full implications of integrating UGC into their output, with regard to its impact on their staff, their audiences, and the people who are creating the content in the first place.

  • Given the strong reliance on agencies to discover and verify UGC, news managers need to gain a stronger understanding of the practices employed by different agencies. This will enable them to ask appropriate questions about the provenance of a piece of UGC and the verification checks that have been undertaken.

  • The issue of vicarious trauma among staff who work with UGC is beginning to receive recognition as a serious issue, and news organizations must strive to provide support and institute working practices that minimize risk.