Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content

Should News Organizations Label?

While most interviewees agreed with the principle of crediting (even if it wasn’t being done systematically), the issue of labeling was less clear-cut. As one social media manager noted, “I think crediting is a no brainer, but [with labeling] I think you’ve got to make an editorial judgment about whether it’s necessary.” Another senior editor at a different news organization argued: I think honestly whether or not you put amateur, most people can tell the difference. If you’re using amateur footage from Syria, come on, it’s been several years. Do you need to put amateur footage on every single image coming from Syria? Our audience is not dumb; they are not stupid. They know it’s not a journalist who shot the image, so I think it’s kind of redundant that we have to put it as a rule. Say it’s rule number 25 [that you always have to label]. I don’t think that works. I think it’s important to do it when it’s not clear. There is obviously uncertainly about whether labeling is necessary, and if so, how to signpost to a television audience that a piece of content has been captured by someone unrelated to the newsroom. But there was an overall

sense that people who capture and upload content often have an agenda, and that by not labeling, you’re not being transparent with your audience. I think it’s all about transparency and I’m sure viewers and readers don’t like things that aren’t transparent. When it’s from UNHCR, I think they need to know it’s from UNHCR. Or when it’s from someone who happened to be on holiday in Italy who has this amazing picture of a flood, they need to know that it’s from that person because I think it changes the perspective of what we’re looking at. So therefore I think it’s very, very important that we know the source. For some it was a quality issue: “The argument I use to everyone is, from an editorial point of view, do you not want to point out to people that this is not our material?” For others, it was an insurance policy: In many of these cases, it might be the best defense you have. As in, we put it through the usual checks, we checked it as much as we possibly can, everything we normally do, and it still turned out to be wrong. But at least we said, “This is what this picture says it is.” I think this helps to some degree, but it doesn’t totally excuse you.