Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content


Crediting involves providing details about the person who captured the piece of UGC. Labeling, on the other hand, simply involves acknowledging that the content is user-generated. On this topic there are two different schools of thought. Some newsrooms want to be very clear that someone unconnected to the newsroom filmed the footage. They surmise that by labeling pictures as “Amateur Footage” or “Activist Footage” there is a safety net in place if something goes wrong. They also believe it is important to be transparent with the audience about where the footage has come from to ensure that if the uploader has a particular agenda, it is clear to the audience. Others believe it is obvious when the pictures are created by someone unconnected to the newsroom, and separate labels are of little worth and certainly don’t represent an insurance policy that would stand up in court. Overall, our study showed that 72 percent of content did not have any form of description, be it a label (written or spoken) such as “amateur footage,” “activist video,” or even the unfortunate term, “source:” There was certainly no uniformity about the way UGC is described to audiences. And there was definitely no agreement about what constitutes best practice. There was a general reluctance for onscreen labels, with more in favor of including the fact that the pictures were sourced from the Web in the spoken script. There was also an awareness that transparency with the audience is crucial, but uncertainty about how best to provide it.34 As part of the analysis, we examined whether each piece of UGC was described as content produced by someone unrelated to the newsroom (i.e., not a professional journalist). As discussed above, this took a number of forms (e.g., onscreen captions of “amateur footage,” “activist video,” or “You-”). Sometimes UGC content was obvious when it was embedded online, rendering a picture from Twitter or a video from YouTube evident. This idea of referencing a social platform received mixed reviews. Some credit “ Jane Smith,” which automatically shows that it’s UGC as well as offers a credit. But others were very wary of referencing social platforms, both due to concerns about overtly promoting commercial companies and navigating content that often sits on multiple platforms. One news organization detailed a clear policy on crediting both the platform and the username, describing how the organization’s head of legal had been very clear with them: If you’re going to use something that was filmed when you weren’t there and no one you know was there, you can’t 100 percent ever say it is a fact. You just have to be belt and braces and say, “This is from this source.” It means a) you’re giving the person the credit where credit is due, and b) if it comes back to you, we did say this was not our cameraman. Our numbers suggest that while this view might be the one shared by heads of legal and rights departments, many have not been successful in translating this into newsroom practice. As TABLE 7 illustrates, on television the majority of UGC was not described or labeled specifically as content that had been created by someone unrelated to the newsroom. It is worth noting that it is much clearer on websites that content has been sourced from the social Web, and is therefore UGC. This is due to the structural character that exists online. This makes it possible to embed content directly

from social networks like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or Vine. When the descriptions are compared by channel, it was clear that some channels were more likely to describe content as UGC than others. TABLE 7: Percentage of UGC Not Labeled as UGC

The fact that content had been sourced from the social Web was much clearer on the programs dedicated to social media that feature on all rolling news channels now. On Al Jazeera English, it was The Stream, on BBC World, it was BBC Trending, on France 24 there are two: Les Observateurs and Sur Le Net. These programs would play a YouTube video showing the full YouTube page. We counted this as a decryption of the provenance of a piece of content. And sometimes there wouldn’t be a specific caption describing the content, but the reporter or presenter would use language such as, “These pictures have emerged online.” This was also counted as a description of the footage as UGC. TABLE 8 illustrates how different broadcasters performed in terms of labeling UGC. The differences were quite stark. For example, 51 percent of CNN International content on television was not described explicitly as UGC. Telesur didn’t label any content as UGC and NHK World failed to label 97 percent of the UGC it used. Online, some organizations were more likely to label content as UGC in some way. On the CNN International website, only 13 percent of the 450 pieces of UGC were not clearly labeled as UGC. In contrast, 45 percent of UGC content on BBC World online had nothing to describe the content as UGC in any form.

TABLE 8: Who Added Descriptive Labels to UGC?

FIGURE 9: Screen grab From a Broadcast by euronews During our Sample Period

In comparison, Al Jazeera English used the caption, “ Video,” which interviewees explained had been integrated into newsroom guidelines a few months prior.

FIGURE 10: Screen grab From a Broadcast by Al Jazeera English During our Sample Period