When it comes to reporting breaking news, the days of waiting for material from a newswire to come through are long gone.
Newsrooms now rely heavily on eyewitness media, or user-generated content (UGC), to alert them to developing events and provide multimedia content for stories.
For Fergus Bell, handling UGC in an ethical way is essential for the future of journalism. As the co-founder of ONA’s UGC Ethics Initiative, he sees a sustainable model for handling UGC as one that protects both journalists and their sources — and builds public trust in news organisations.
“There are ways to be competitive and ethical at the same time. I think that it requires the industry to work together. There are certain standards that we can come to – just because this is new, it doesn’t mean that we can’t get together and talk about it,” he said in his keynote address at news:rewired ‘in focus’ on Wednesday.
Sustainability means building confidence so that newsrooms and journalists continue to be trusted to handle UGC in an ethical and professional manner. Below are some dos and don'ts for building a sustainable workflow for handling UGC in the newsroom.
- Be transparent
“Transparency is key here and that comes back to sustainability. Our audiences are going out looking for this content. They have verification skills of their own and they need to know that we can do the same.
"They need to understand a little more about our standards and the way that we work in. Not just for the sake of filling in time, but to show them that we know what we’re doing.”
- Pay for tools
- Make the most of social media feeds
“At the very least it’s a springboard to what you want to read, what you want to be looking at in the short term future,” Bell said.
- Re-publish unverified media
“If you establish that the source isn’t right, that the event is old or the content is faked, stop. It’s very costly, in time, to keep verifying something. If something's not right, go start looking for something that is [right].”
- Rely on disclaimers
- Bombard eyewitnesses with requests
- Leave it fully to automation
Your instincts, experience and knowledge still can’t be replicated by even the most advanced machines.
“You need to know when you’re looking at something that it’s not real or it hasn’t been uploaded in a way that meets a common pattern,” Bell said. “A lot of disproved content is all about how it emerged.”
The next news:rewired digital journalism conference takes place on 1 December at MSN UK in London. Find out more about the day here.
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