Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content


As the amount of UGC produced around news events has proliferated, newsrooms have had to discover, verify, and secure rights for using this content. They have also had to find ways to make it broadcastable by transcoding video files, while developing systems for distributing it across news desks. There is no one established workflow in terms of the way UGC is treated across the news industry. Just considering the issue of discovery, there are four methods newsrooms use for finding and accessing user-generated content: a) locating people with footage at the scene of a breaking news event, b) encouraging people to share photos or videos directly with the newsroom, c) finding content on social networks themselves, or d) relying on agencies or third parties once the necessary rights permissions are in place. In most cases, smaller, national newsrooms rely solely on the news agencies for international stories. On domestic stories they may, however, encourage their audiences to submit content, or turn to Twitter or Facebook to search for photos, videos, and eyewitnesses. It is relatively rare for a newsroom to have a dedicated UGC desk, as the BBC has with its UGC Hub. Still, even in news organizations where responsibility for discovering and verifying UGC is shared across the newsroom, there is normally a team of people (or even just one person) seen as having

more expertise in handling UGC. These journalists are much more likely to have Arabic language skills given the volume of content emerging from Syria and Egypt. Due to the limited number of people who have the necessary skills to verify UGC, and the concerns many senior editors share about the difficulties of verifying this type of content, the final decision to use a piece of user-generated content often has to be “signed off on.” This means that the time of day often impacts UGC use. During overnight shifts and weekends, UGC is much less likely to be used. The biggest challenge that larger newsroom face involves safely sharing content around a newsroom once it’s been discovered and verified. Even downloading video from YouTube and converting it into a format that can be broadcast provides a real headache for many newsrooms. One newsroom has even set up a camera to film a computer screen, which plays the YouTube videos they want to use. Once the footage is converted and uploaded into internal Media Asset Management (MAM) systems, information related to the completed verification checks and required crediting can be, and is often, lost. As a result, by the time output or gallery producers receive the footage, they often don’t know the pictures’ origins or that they are working with UGC at all.