Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content

Staffing Around UGC

The question of whether all journalists in a newsroom are responsible for monitoring breaking news on social networks and finding videos and pictures, or whether it should be given to a small unit or even single journalist, has not been resolved. There was certainly a sense that all journalists should have an understanding of how to discover and verify content, but there was also a belief that having dedicated staff that work with UGC every day is preferable, because those employees are better able to develop and become specialized in the techniques required. As one editor observed, “My feeling is I don’t think the guys who are at the sharp end [the duty editors] are ever going to be in a position to be properly across social media, and I think we do need a dedicated role doing that.” CNN talked about the ways social newsgathering has been integrated across the newsroom, highlighting the role of its iReport staff as clearly very important.

[Social newsgathering] is totally embedded. Our people on the news desk are monitoring social media all the time for tip-offs, pictures, videos, sources. We also have the iReport, so every morning in our editorial [meeting] we have an iReport representative at the table and they may say, “Oh, we’re getting really fabulous iReports.” … They can be stills, video, blogs, so it’s totally integrated for us in two ways. We can call out to our iReporters because we’ve got thousands of them now. We also monitor social media for breaking news [using DataMinr]. The biggest dedicated UGC unit within the news industry is the BBC’s UGC Hub. The desk is staffed by around 20 journalists covering the whole day in shifts, with a peak staffing level of five journalists during the day working on regional, national, and international stories across all BBC output—television, radio, and online. This desk is based in the BBC’s main newsroom, and one of its team members sits on the central desk that coordinates all the BBC’s news output, while the remainder of the team sits at the edges of the main news area. ARD and ZDF in Germany have content centers that work with UGC alongside other content intake tasks. At ZDF, the tasks associated with UGC were added to the responsibilities of a pre-existing team. ZDF’s editor-in-chief, Elmar Thevessen, explained how doing this changed the team’s importance in the newsroom and made them more visible. It put UGC discovery into a more central place: They will either search the Internet for video material themselves, or they will get a demand from one of the different programs that we have that they should look for specific material. And they are now connected into our news desk, which is something we hadn’t done before. In the past, they were operating totally separately from everybody else, but now we basically put one of them right in the middle of the newsroom; we also built a little office there. They work in shifts from 5 a.m. in the morning until 1 a.m. the next day. Other, smaller organizations with daily news bulletins have no dedicated desks, but have allocated the role of UGC or social media editor to a single staff member (in many instances, due to the Syria conflict, this person is an Arabic speaker, as at VRT of Belgium and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom). Having one person in-house ensures that workflows surrounding UGC are taken more seriously within an organization. However, having only one specialized UGC staff member also causes problems when they are not on shift. The pan-European news channel euronews has a single dedicated UGC editor, who noted, “When I’m not working, usually the rule is not to use UGC. It’s the best way, but that means we can be a little bit limited.” This can also mean that when UGC is used outside of that window mistakes can happen, as other producers are unaware of the correct procedures. This was the explanation euronews offered for its limited crediting of the amateur content it put on air during the Glasgow helicopter crash. Notably, it was not only that the UGC editor was not working; general staffing was also lower. Peter Barabas, the channel’s editor-in-chief, explained, “Staffing is reduced by 40 percent on nights and weekends. We function at about 60 percent of what we do on weekdays.” A social media editor from another channel noted that when he was out of the office UGC that comes from agencies often doesn’t get credited. He explained that because his organization doesn’t “credit pictures that come from agencies, because we work a lot with agencies,” people thereby think the same rules apply to agencygenerated UGC. These single-editor organizations are clearly aware of these risks, but believe that having a dedicated UGC specialist ultimately provides more benefits. As the senior foreign journalist at VRT confirmed, ``You have to remember that we are a small organization and in bigger organizations it’s probably a bit more organized. When you sometimes see them on the BBC talking to

their Syria desk, that’s impressive. For us it was already a big thing that we have a producer who looks [at content from] the Arab world.” It was clear from our interviews that the benefit of having at least one staff member responsible for UGC means it provides a model for UGC workflows among other producers in the newsroom. Organizations without staff dedicated to UGC-discovery typically point to their size and/or budget. Interestingly, however, they recognize that this will need to be rectified in the near future. As one editor admitted, “It’s something that is playing an increasingly important role in what we do. It is something that its time will come. We have a digital desk that generates digital content and it would seem to be a natural extension to their duties. Not that they’ll be thrilled to hear that.” Certainly, where there is no dedicated UGC or social media desk, the online teams tend to be tasked to handle user-generated content. As one digital editor said, “Let’s say a building collapses or a fire happens. The TV people will come over to the online team saying, ‘Can you see if there’s any footage out there? Or any photos we can use?’ ” But as another digital editor conceded, “It used to be that [when a story broke] the online team would pop up like meerkats saying, Look there’s a photo! Now everyone in the newsroom [knows how to find that photo].”