Knight Center
Knight Center


We want you! User-generated content moves to the center of newsgathering today

A photo of St. Peter's Square in Rome, Italy. Source: NBC News Instagram

Social media has made user-generated content more important than ever for newsgathering, but the practice is becoming increasingly integrated into news organizations’ business models—especially at the local level—as industry contraction and content curation and aggregation replace traditional reporting.

On Wednesday, May 8, an article on StreetFight argued that “networked local journalism” is the key to maintaining hyperlocal reporting at a time of protracted contraction in the news industry. The website likened the model to a “community bulletin board” where reporters curate and aggregate content posted by community members.

Arguably, this is already what’s happening in the mainstream media too, where Twitter, Facebook and Reddit have become the go-to sources for breaking news, including the Boston Marathon bombings and the Newtown, Conn. shooting. The increased prominence of the “crowd” in newsgathering was acknowledged in a recent update to The Associated Press’ social media guidelines that warned journalists about spreading unverified rumors on social networks, among other things.

The StreetFight article acknowledged that “journalistic integrity” might be weakened by a more open, networked model, but countered that mistakes from local contributors would do less damage than those from CNN or The Associated Press, and that ultimately local contributors are invested in their community and maintaining their reputation.

Content partnership manager at the Arizona Republic, John Triplett, said, “We believe the community contributions from our local bloggers is the most efficient way to make local news relevant,” according to the article.

The same basic idea has flourished in Chile, where the Mi Voz network of citizen correspondents has become the farthest-reaching regional media brand in the country with 16 newspapers. Mi Voz, or My Voice, takes the extra step of providing basic training for its reporters and editorial staff review citizen-submitted content for plagiarism and copyright infringement.

See a video interview from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas with Mi Voz founder Paula Rojo here (in Spanish).

User-generated content has also revolutionized news coverage in countries like Mexico where everyday citizens use social media to report on violent crime. A report from Microsoft Research called Twitter users “war correspondents” for their role in filling a news gap created by organized crime and government pressure on the traditional media there.  

On a lighter note, the pop culture blog turned news organization BuzzFeed launched Community on Wednesday, May 8, a platform that allows approved contributors to post their own content to the blog. BuzzFeed framed its announcement as a novel addition even though it’s been culling crowdsourced content from Reddit for years. What is new is allowing users to post their content without going through an editor or another BuzzFeed staff member’s blog. No word yet if posts to the vertical will contribute anything beyond cat gifs and dare to venture into news reporting.


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