In relation to my previous post about Citizenship Journalism and the trust between  journalists and the public this post will also be about User Generated Content (UGC).  UGC does not only mean citizenship journalism but rather anything a normal user contributes to, for example: reviews or comment sections made on official news websites.Some journalists have described UGC as problematic because of: ‘widespread concerns about repetitiveness, poor language skills and a lack of credibility.’ from users on news websites. (Jane B. Singer, 2010,: QUALITY CONTROL, Journalism Practice, 4:2, Page 133)  This problem creates a larger workload for journalists that do not only need to do their job but also need to go through comments made on their article in search of ‘flame wars’ and ‘trolls’ to delete. Due to this problem some journalists have begun to question the worth of UGC, something which seems ridiculous to even ponder. The issues that Singer mentions are: staffing resources, quality control and legal liability.

The legal problem with UGC is among the most exaggerated problems. A journalist’s article is (at least normally) separate from comments or articles made from the public. It is also different from websites such as Wikipedia in which the public can freely change the article itself. If a negative comment is made any reader that sees the comment or article before the journalist has had the chance to delete it can clearly distinguish it to not be written by the journalist himself- his credibility would not be sullied. There will also be no lawsuit as long as the journalist deletes the comment in a certain period of time. All of this means that journalists have full control over their website and they can not blame UGC for being, as one journalist described in Singer’s piece:

vulgar, abusive and generally worthless. It cheapens our product and, in some cases, offends our sources’

Resources may make it hard to hire someone to edit comments made and a journalist may end up juggling their work with this chore but that does not change the fact that it is their website – they are the gatekeepers and it is a role they chose to fill because they knew the Internet was the best way to attract more views. By extending their article to a broader audience the participation of ‘trolls’ is inevitable.

The only problem that journalists do not have control over is the workload added but this is well worth the hassle in exchange for the positive aspects that UGC brings. Despite complaints of the unreliability of UGC, journalists have enjoyed a wealth of pros. As Singer described:

The biggest perceived benefit was the potential to attract traffic, especially repeat traffic, and thus (in theory) ad revenue. 

Which not only helps bring in money but uses the current user generated content to attract more readers through debates and discussions. This not only helps bring in a larger audience but changes the concept of news. With newspapers: ‘yesterdays news is already forgotten’ (a popular concept) but with user participation – news stories are in the public eye for longer – debates tempt people to revisit websites and participate therefore extending the lifespan of a news story.

There are many journalists complaining about the problems UGC brings to the table – but most big news organizations haven’t dared remove all forms of public participation because they add variety to an otherwise plain official website. Even if most users do not comment or write an article the option to do so, in itself, has kept them revisiting the site.


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