Pete Clifton, head of BBC News InteractivePete Clifton, newly appointed head of BBC News Interactive, says that user-generated content adds to the strength of the BBC's journalism - and is here to stay.

Do you think user-generated content would ever replace some professional content, or pose a threat to the livelihoods of freelance journalists?

We will always need both - the two things complement each other.

Our users might submit an off-beat video clip or an eyewitness photo, but there will still be a need for reliable images from agencies and we will still commission photo projects from freelancers, for example. We're committed to that principle and that mindset is not changing. Nothing we have done jeopardises freelancers. Our content relies on good journalists, both at the BBC and freelance.

Our readers expect a whole range of coverage and there is room for all.

The wider internet community has an ethos of contribution and collaboration without financial incentive. Is it exploitative for commercial news organisations to publish the public's free contributions, or would a culture of paid amateur content start to erode the community spirit of the web?

We have a community of people that enjoy using the site and that want to engage in the debates we have, and on occasion want to share their own photos. In my opinion, the whole spirit of that is diminished if users start to see a dollar sign. We want to harness the feeling of community and concentrate on that.

From a very early stage we have been building on a participatory culture. I'm very uneasy with the idea of using licence fee money to pay contributors.

What about concerns that members of the public are untrained, and might behave irresponsibly or unethically to get pictures - like 'citizen paparazzi'?

We wouldn't enourage our users to do anything risky or intrusive to get pictures. If we do receive images that look like the user has overstepped the mark we won't use them. We have to be responsible about the use of images and be vigilant about the material that is submitted.

We want to offer more training: guidance on how to produce video, write text, good approaches for photography and guidelines on what not to do. Or 10 key things to remember when taking a photo. We're keen to develop this area over the next 12 months and give back something to our readers.

This is in the pipeline and it's a logical step to get this stuff on the site. I can see a time when we have a range of this content - training modules and educational guidelines for readers.

After the Neil review of BBC news, training modules were created to strengthen good practice. We have guidelines that our own online journalists have used while training, so why not share that information and give some of that knowledge back? These aren't state secrets - we will be sharing good practice and be opening up what people can contribute. And that will help to raise the profile of user-generated content generally.

Average reader emails submitted to BBC News each day:
• 10,000

In response to London bombings on 7 July:
• Emails - 20,000
• Text messages - 3,000
• Images - 1,000

"Images came in quickly - within 10-15 minutes of the first bomb going off.

" No news agency had filed that quickly and by the time they were there, the barricades were going up."

Pete Clifton

How important are reader comments to the overall coverage on

Our task is to try to get the balance right - we still have a whole range of people who want to read the BBC's straight news. They trust our editorial judgement and want to see which stories we have chosen to lead with and what our perspective is. Then there are those who want to join in and contribute. Our task is to try and balance those two audiences.

The volume of comments remains an issue. We could see a way to get users to grade comments and help with moderation, but we also have to be careful with the information we receive. It needs to be verified and checked because there are people who would give spurious accounts for whatever reason.

We now have a hub of four people in the interactivity team that work on verifying this content and distributing it. Ultimately we need more than four to reliably look at this material but it is a new system, and we'll have to learn as we go along.

This group can help with a major story by finding people with direct experience or eyewitness accounts to contribute to coverage. But there is also an outreach part to this, a two-way process. They can look at what kind of things are being said and what readers have been most interested in over the course of a week, and that can inform what we cover.

That's one of the special things about the BBC - we are very well placed to join communities together around the world. For One Day in Afghanistan a BBC reporter sat in a tent with six elders in an Afghan village and, using a laptop and satellite connection, fielded email questions from site users around the world.

It brought a range of people together to talk about their experiences and they ended up knowing far more about a community that may have seemed very different. It really got under the skin. After the project, one of the elders thanked the reporter and said: "Your project proves the world has not forgotten us."

That ability for outreach has also helped our profile within BBC news because we can find and deliver experiences and eyewitness accounts from communities - and there is no other way of doing that as effectively.

In the next few months we want to send another reporter out. We want to push this kind of project, rather than relying on debates and comments.

Has the introduction of new publishing tools and formats been driven by your staff, or by the very demanding online audience?

It's a mixture of our team and our users that drive innovation. We do have a fantastic team and are in a very fortunate position with funding. We have some of the best people in the business, so it's in their nature to want to innovate and push boundaries.

But our users have a range of other skills and thoughts, and we encourage innovation through projects like BBC Backstage. That's a mind-boggling place. They have access to BBC feeds and there's a whole range of information at their disposal. They can try different ways to slice and dice BBC content and it's an interesting way of innovating because all these projects appear quietly on the Backstage site. They have a good idea, introduce it on the site and we give them the time and tools to develop it.

So it's not just our own innovation. What drives us is to keep challenging ourselves - our content has to be unusual and distinctive. If we didn't aim for that we'd just stick to text coverage because it's easy. It's good, and it's an important part of what we do but other sites are doing that and we want added value for our users. We think about clickable guides, or analysis, or comment. We always need to push boundaries, be different and be distinctive. We can't stand still.

Do you think the pressure to generate revenue has handicapped the creative development of other online news publications? Is financial profit fundamentally opposed to creativity?

There are many more hurdles in the commercial world. We can try to experiment, but it must be harder to make those steps with financial restrictions and the bottom line looming. Again, we're in a hugely fortunate position at the BBC.

What is the next big challenge for the online news industry?

How to make content available on different platforms. Beyond whatever website you are publishing on, how will the news be personalised? In what format? How will users want to receive their news? What about new ways of presenting content? The technical infrastructure? We will have to meet the on-demand age and be extremely nimble so that we can deliver whatever is needed, wherever it is needed.

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