For news media, User Generated Content needs to be based on information and facts

Online screaming matches tarnish the brand

(This is part II in a series on user generated content (UGC))

Any news organization looking to add high-value user generated content should be trying to get users to contribute facts and information as opposed to just their opinions. This is because most of the value in user generated content comes from the facts and most of the lack of value comes from opinions, which are not fact-based.

Editors need to start asking: Is this a story where the readers have something of value to add fact-wise and information-wise? Here are some cases where they do:

1. Snow picture after Montreal’s March 8th storm (click on photo to see full frame)


Snow Bikes originally uploaded by ss.yesterday.

2. Videotape of Vancouver airport taser death


Videotaped by Paul Pritchard, a passenger who witnessed the event and sold the tape.

3. Rebecca Eckler’s lawsuit against Knocked Up director, Judd Apatow

When Eckler, the author of a book titled Knocked Up, announced she was suing Judd Apatow, the director of an unrelated film of the same name, for copyright infringement, readers of the blog, Reject the Koolaid, questioned Eckler’s claims to originality, giving many concrete examples of how she also could be seen to be “stealing” material — the same charge she labelled aginst Apatow.
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Successful UGC depends on readers having special knowledge to give as in all the examples above. When readers have nothing to add in the way of information, the resulting UGC — or loser generated content as it’s also been called — can discredit not just itself, but the entire site where it appears.

The transformative power of digital communications lies not in any proven ability to increase the number of people with something interesting and newsworthy to say but rather in the ability to reach and communicate with those people who are most worth hearing from on a given topic. Just as journalists have always had to figure out what questions to ask what sources, now they need to think about what questions to ask what readers as well.

And then, as discussed in Part I of this UGC series, they need to organize the results so that the best information rises to the top.
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Coming up: UGC and local search

10 thoughts on “For news media, User Generated Content needs to be based on information and facts

  1. Anne, did you ask Janne (ss.yesterday) for permission to use her photo on your blog? If not, you know that you are violating her copyright. Her shot is clearly marked “All Rights Reserved”, and your blog carries Adsense ads. Bad move. You should have used a CC BY licence IMO.

  2. I only use bloggable photos and I always leave a comment that I’ve used them.

    If a photographer objects to my Adsense ads, I’ll take the photo down. My sense is that nost photogs don’t care about a few Adsense ads on a small blog, but are more concerned about large business ventures.

    So far no one’s objected though a few have asked for clarifications, and I use lots and lots of Flckr shots.

    As a content creator myself, I’m very conscious of the rules as well as the benefits of not walling yourself off.

    If I ever do start making serious money or getting takedown requests, I’ll clearly have to rethink this policy.

  3. I’m okay with it and flattered by the use of my photo. I just take pictures for fun and just left the copyright at Flickr’s default setting.

    Thanks for the concern, Anonymous.

  4. Thanks Janna, loved the shot.

    I must admit I tend to assume that a lot of people have the same attitude as you.

    I figure the hardliners turn the “blog this photo” button off.

  5. If a photographer objects to my Adsense ads, I’ll take the photo down. My sense is that nost photogs don’t care about a few Adsense ads on a small blog, but are more concerned about large business ventures.

    Did you know that the copyright does not work like this? It’s not opt-out, it’s opt-in, i.e. you are not entitled to publish a photo/video unless you have the permission to do so. With the attitude above you might get into trouble.

    (And, as a side note, I think it’s a shame that someone who calls himself a ‘journalist’ is violating existing copyright. The size of your site or the revenue you generate from Adsense does not matter to me.)

  6. I think this discussion would work a whole lot better if you’d lay off the “shame” stuff and not refer to me as “someone who calls himself a journalist.”

    I AM a journalist and I am very interested in copyright issues.

    As we both know, there is a wide range of opinion — even among creators — on how much copyright protection is enough.

    I definitely fall more into the “sure, you can have it” camp, but I recognize that there are many others who are more proprietary about their work — and you would appear to be one of them.

    But honestly now, would you really not allow me to use a public bloggable Flickr photo on this site because of the Adsense ads or is it that you would prefer that I check with you first?

  7. would you really not allow me to use a public bloggable Flickr photo on this site because of the Adsense ads or is it that you would prefer that I check with you first?

    No, and no.

    From a pure process point of view, I’d strongly recommend to ask first. Sure, you can embed any image without asking first, but you are risking a DMCA notification with Blogger/Google. Not smart. Your blog could go offline within seconds.

    Second, if you are earning money from using a copyright protected image (even if it just illustrates a story), then you should compensate the photographer for the use of the image. Or switch to Creative Commons BY licences.

  8. “From a pure process point of view, I’d strongly recommend to ask first.”

    That’s just the problem — with the type of writing I and many other people do, it’s not always feasible to ask first. When I need a photo, I often need it right away or not at all.

    The processes of writing and publishing have changed while the processes of photo approval haven’t. It takes too long.

    Why don’t you come up with a system that works with the media we use now instead of one that was designed for last century’s media.

  9. That’s just the problem — with the type of writing I and many other people do, it’s not always feasible to ask first. When I need a photo, I often need it right away or not at all.

    Come’on, Ann. I’m really missing words. The one who keyed in the sentence above, is that the same person who wonders about American Capital, Geosign, CEP? Who wonders about user generated content?

    First, I do not think you NEED to have a specific image. You are a writer. A photo is just eye candy to beef up a story (unless the photo is really adding to the story). Where are the photos of Geosign HQ, btw? Where are the photos of the pink slips?

    Second, you do not NEED to violate existing copyright. Again, please do have a look at Creative Commons (CC) licences. Images with CC licences can often be used without asking first. You need to specifically look at CC-BY licences, which allow ANY use of an image with just attribution required, i.e. you take the image, publish it (website, newspaper, magazine, blog, postcard, book, whatever) and all you have to do is proper attribution. Flickr even lets you search for CC BY images:

    http://www.flickr.com/search/advanced/

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