Article at… OhMyNews.
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You can trust a columnist to come up with a position to spark off some debate. And as for a Daily Mail columnist…
Keith Waterhouse has his perspective on bloggers: “I cannot be doing with blogging, bloggers or blogs”, he says. But as for photobloggers? Ah, they’re different.
“This Damascus U-turn took place in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s execution, when the pictures began to come in.
“You will recall that the reports originally had it that the death sentence was carried out with as much decorum and dignity as such gruesome rituals allow.
“No Western reporters were present – the BBC’s John Simpson was asked along to the necktie party by the Iraqi leader himself, but was turned away.
“The bloggers were there, though, armed with picture-snatching mobile phone cameras. The official photo coverage, taken to convince the world that the monster had indeed paid the price, were grisly enough.
“The bloggers’ contribution – grabbed at the gallows either by a mini-mob of gleeful Shia interlopers or by the condemned prisoner’s guards themselves – shocked all right-thinking people.”
Of course, the Saddam Hussein pictures were not taken by ‘bloggers’ as far as we know, but a person with a mobile phone. There’s plenty more ill-informed commentary here too, but something to react to – and the comments are worth a read.
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The Conference today ended with a more or less open discussion about citizen journalism, User Generated Media or what we want to call it. The discussion was mostly about the Saddam Hussein footage recorded on a mobile phone during his execution. The focus seemed to be pretty much on who was responsible for whether we should see that kind of content or not and whether we should have a choice.
The general agreement in the audience was mainly, that it wasn’t good with too much of a filter, but on the other hand, no one wanted to accidentally bump in to a video that they didn’t wanted to see.
To use an example that was used in the discussion, where it was said that there is a reason why some magazines are placed on the top shelf in the book store. Everyone knows they are there, and people that want to read them can get them if they want. But people that shouldn’t be exposed to them, in this case children, isn’t.
The same should be true for the Saddam video. There are children around the world that are dead because they played around, trying to hang each other after seeing the video of Saddam Hussein’s execution “somewhere”.
Maybe The Guardian or The BBC don’t show those videos, but who shows them then? YouTube and GoogleVideo are just two! Where the vast majority of visitors are young people and kids. Those kids that are now dead, probably spent more time on YouTube and GoogleVideo than they did on The Guardians or The BBC’s website. Maybe they didn’t have a choice, they probably bumped into the video on the weeks most watched, or something similar. That is just like moving the magazines from the top shelf to the bottom, and sell them in Toys ‘R’ Us!
Maybe it’s a good idea to let us be our own editor, but maybe its a bit to much to ask for a child?
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The concluding panel debate of the day was kicked off by a consideration of the Saddam Hussein hanging footage. Should news editors have chosen to use the images? Does taste and decency have a role – or a meaning – in the new media age? As bloggers are not subject to the same regulatory restraints as the press and broadcasting, do they deserve the same status as journalists? Was this about citizen journalism at all, or really regulation of the Internet?
I could make the point that self-regulation of the press is barely regulation at all, or that blogs are ‘regulated’ by a critical peer system, but perhaps the key point is this: clicking on a link and turning a page of a newspaper are very different activities.
Online, the choice to view the footage of the Saddam Hussein hanging is, for the most part, one made by the user. The choice to view still images on the front page of The Guardian, or an edited version on the BBC News, is, mostly, a passive one. If we are passive consumers of media such as printed papers and television broadcasts, then perhaps there is a case for editors to exercise judgments of taste and decency on our behalf. But when we consume news and video on the web, we are deciding what to read and see, when to see it, often on the basis of personal recommendation.
In this situation, do we need a regulator to decide what is ‘tasteful’ and ‘decent’? Probably not, given how much it would cost and the dangers of abuse. Do we need a regulator to decide what is legal? Yes, and we have one: it’s called the police.
Taste and decency are cultural concepts that differ from person to person, and each person is the best placed to make an informed decision about what will offend them. The second-best placed people to make that decision are the friends and favourite bloggers whose values coincide most closely with their own, and who ‘edit’ the content that they blog or pass on accordingly. They may not adhere to a formal code of conduct, but they are signed up to a social contract that, it might be argued, is much more powerful in regulating what they publish.
Your thoughts please.
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The third speaker at the Citizenship Journalism Conference was Vicky Taylor, Head of Interactivity at the BBC, who introduced us to the way the BBC deals with and uses user-generated content.
Vicky Taylor, who likes to avoid the notion of talking about “Citizenship Journalism” as such, and prefers the more general definition of user-generated content, talked the audience through each of the nine categories in which the BBC group and use content provided by the public anywhere in the world.
The most prominent examples of these are surely the use of images and videos sent in by users, such as pictures of the underground in the 7/7 bombings or footage from a contact filming the destruction created by Hurricane Katrina. Equally common are eye-witness reports by people either sending in up-to-date information about an event, or the BBC drawing upon a database of ten thousands of contacts around the world in order to get an eye-witness account from a certain area.
A relatively new aspect of the BBC’s work with user-generated content are panels, such as the “UK voters’ panel” that allows a random representative selection of the British public to publish their viewpoints on the election period. Vicky Taylor also emphasized the importance user emails and comments have on possible follow-up coverage, depending on whether a substantial amount of people have reported on a similar issue. The potential news story is then investigated and its claims checked against other sources related to the topic, as it was done in relation to the allegations made about the conditions of army accommodation with a “Have your say” section.
For the BBC, said Vicky Taylor, user-generated content is vital and a great opportunity to not only get immediate and live information from an eye-witness, but also to offer users the opportunity to share their stories and publish their points of view on news issues.
“User-generated content is here to stay”, she concludes, so news organisations and critics in the industry need to pay attention to this new interactivity in news making. On the other hand she points out that the use of user-generated content is “only enhancing investigative journalism” and the same journalistic standards need to be applied to checking UGC and producing news.
In a follow-up Q&A session, Vicky Taylor distanced herself from the idea of paying for user-generated content, limiting this to only exceptional images or videos of great value for the BBC image library, for example. In response to criticism about the supposed danger of lobbying as a result of giving a certain topic a platform if it is being mentioned in a substantial amount of user emails, she argues that a story is still being investigated towards all sides of the story and even lobbying is worth reporting about, if done so in an objective manner.
Apart from discussions around the authenticity of material in the workshop sessions following Vicky Taylor’s presentation, another controversy revolved around the value of news in relation to random, one participant, citizenship journalist accounts versus quality journalism and the importance of a news agenda that corresponds with an existing social reality outside user choice and prioritising.
Is it desirable to have total user control at the expense of controlling the news agenda, especially in web-related media, or is there an ethical aspect of the journalistic profession within organisations to push matters of concern forward to the public? Vicky Taylor believes that high-quality journalism will always be of value and people are just given the option to compare more broadly. Several participants agreed, saying that there would always be people whose aim it is to produce quality news, and people who want to read, see or hear that type of news.
Critical accounts of how the upsurge of using user-generated content could be linked to the emergence of 24/7 media, and stand for an ongoing demand to fill the news agenda with stories which makes the use of any user-generated content a necessity to keep viewers interested were discussed by workshop participants.
Despite these accusations of quantity over quality, Vicky Taylor argues that the 24/7 news media are merely a technological innovation that would exist with or without user-generated content and submissions were checked, verified, and only used if it was of particular interest.
“A good story still makes a good story”, she concludes, and adds that the increase of working with user-generated content is great to get to the grass-root sources, and hence a more democratic take on producing news.
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