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Journalist Fellows' Papers

How Newsrooms Use User Generated Content

Paper by RISJ Journalist Fellow

Journalist Fellow Kadia Tubman (2018) examines how user generated content can be harnessed and managed in an ethical manner by news outlets. She interviews seven media executives and academics to establish the key questions which newsrooms should consider, as well as making recommendations on working with social sources.

Social media provides a wealth of content for reporters and newsrooms, but most important eyewitness-access in traumatic events/crisis via user generated content (UGC). Approaching eyewitnesses through social media is a growing reality for journalists in today’s digital age. Best practices used for interacting with a source are not the same as they were before social media.

This paper looks at the standards which international newsrooms follow when engaging with user-generated content (UGC) and social sources. It also considers the best practices to protect not only the source but all hands who interact with UGC. The study examines engagement with UGC capturing traumatic events and featuring violence, crisis and tragedy. Empirical evidence is sought through a literature review and structured interviews with UGC experts operating in or in conjunction with newsrooms both in the U.S. where private media ownership is prevalent and in the UK where public service media is well-funded a cornerstone of the media ecosystem.

The findings show that while engaging with UGC is treated on a case by case basis, there are common best practices shared amongst experts and journalists. Ultimately, a newsroom that successfully engages UGC will build community trust, which in turn could encourage audience members to share their content. Finally, this study discusses the need for agreeing on a set of standards to protect social sources, reputation and trust in journalism.