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It is no longer a debate – social networking is now a crucial part to many news organizations and with it UGC is also developing. Many use to think of User generated content as personal, purely opinionated blogs or as idle chit-chatting on comment sections however this chatting – although sometimes too strongly phrased, can actually add insight to a journalistic piece. For example, a viewer can check out the comment section to see other opinions and this adds to the authority of the article they are reading.

In the Guardian one journalist said: We are using user generated content not as a primary source but to extend the life of stories, as a way of adding more perspective and insight, not just as way to let people talk amongst themselves, but actually with a purpose to generate more leads and more insight.

Nic Newman wrote a piece called: The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism (2009) in which he uses examples of when UGC worked and when it didn’t. For example : ‘User-submitted picture messages for President-elect Barack Obama were turned into a feature in the popular G2 section of the newspaper and also led to a spin-off book’. This is an example in which journalists directly use UGC to not only create a feature but also add to its authority by having the publics opinion already a part of it.

Of course UGC relys on random members of the public so it is not always successful, once again referring to Nic Newman’s work: ‘During the UK budget in May 2009, the Telegraph published unfiltered tweets, 140 character short comments, directly on the website. It wasn’t long before some users had started to abuse this, adding offensive comments in place of the expected insight on the economic debate. The experiment was pulled.’ This case proved that relying on non-professionals makes it a gamble on whether or not it succeeds in adding credibility to your work or backfires by adding meaningless or abusive comments.

The debate on whether UGC is important or not seems to have expired – since 2009 to now we have seen several websites that use UGC and have succeeded  immensely from it – more so then websites that relied solely on journalists. At the same time, however, many websites have proven to not always inspire the target audience to participate in adding content or comments. UGC should be taken with a pinch of salt as something with immense potential but no guarantee of success in an online world where it is becoming harder to maintain the public interest to a specific website.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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