‘It’s Genuine, as Opposed to Manufactured’
This report explores UK news audiences’ awareness of and attitudes towards the manner in which eyewitness media is gathered, verified and used by journalists. Drawing upon the findings of 10 focus groups, conducted in a variety of locations around the UK, the author identifies a disconnect between the progressiveness of news audiences’ reverence for eyewitness media and the more traditional expectations they retain regarding journalists’ professional obligations. On the one hand, audience members have embraced eyewitness media as a vehicle for newsgathering and storytelling, placing particular value on the immediacy and authenticity they believe it brings to journalistic output. They are knowledgeable of its strengths and accepting of its weaknesses, recognising the compromises it requires of them as news consumers (e.g. lower quality footage in exchange for immediacy). Concurrently, however, they retain rather more traditional ideals regarding their expectations of journalists, looking to news professionals to ‘add value’ by (a) identifying only the most newsworthy ‘amateur’ material and (b) verifying content to ensure its authenticity prior to publication. Indeed, the author argues that while immediacy is very highly valued by news audiences of all backgrounds, there appears to be minimal appetite for unverified content and audience members are far more likely to endorse waiting for eyewitness media to be vetted than be served content that could be inaccurate or misleading.
The report also raises important questions around the use of graphic/traumatic eyewitness media and the process through which news organisations currently source and seek permission to publish eyewitness media. When presented with examples of genuine permission requests sent to eyewitnesses via social media, focus group participants – potential eyewitnesses/content creators of tomorrow – argued variously that the language used by news outlets was confusing, intimidating, and likely to encourage them to demand payment, leading the author to conclude that the current process is untenable and needs to be addressed.
Pete Brown is co-founder and lead researcher at Eyewitness Media Hub. Pete has a PhD from Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.