A Look at BBC UGC Hub

User Generated Content Hits the BBC Newsroom

By Nachtblume


In recent years, the involvement of materials provided by citizens in media through the Internet, variously described by terms such as interactivity and user-generated content (UGC), is making a big change in newsroom and news routine.

In what degree dose the UGC participate in journalistic work? How does newsroom transform UGC into journalistic content? How do the journalists think of UGC? Will they doubt the value of their job since citizens can do it as well and even better?

With assistant staff of BBC UGC Hub, we are going have a look at how UGC makes a difference in BBC newsroom.


From passive follow-up to active management

The development of UGC in BBC

Since the BBC UGC Hub was established in 2005, the content produced by audience has played a part of BBC news routine every day. User generated content (UGC) has become an important part of the BBC news reports.

For BBC, audience’s participation in content production is meaningful not just because it is a new method for a convergent media to response to the fiercer and fiercer market competition, but also because it shows a tolerant attitude and the social obligation towards audience’s participation in journalism as a public broadcaster.

The development of UGC in BBC newsroom (picture by Nachtblume)

UGC is becoming menacing in the era of Web 2.0. Media has gradually began to take advantage of it, making network UGC as a kind of materials of information to use in news stories and as a news source to follow up.

It is understandable for traditional media such as radio and TV news to use UGC resource tracking network hot spot.

But if the media take network UGC for news report without judgment of news value and independent thinking, it is easy for media to get in trap passively when following network hot spots and then to be guided to the wrong direction by people with calculation.

“Some companies or individuals would take advantage of it, creating hot topic or revealing special information to media to cover them to the society on purpose. This is a kind of advertising.” (Natalie Miller, assistant editor of UGC Hub)

Therefore, when UGC is booming, BBC is also developing consciousness of audience and media convergence. It has tried to regulate and manage this important news resource by establishing UGC Hub, taking active management and corresponding measures of the vast resources of UGC.




UGC in News Routine

Diverse sources and contents; quicker feedback

UGC as news source

In the news routine of news production, one main role of UGC is acting as news source. Staff of UGC Hub deal with information and content on social media to find valuable and reliable news source. After verification, they give the news source to journalists to follow up. Journalist of UGC Hub Silvia Costeloe said:

“When we give sources to reporters, usually it would be a breaking news, or just pictures that are needed. So if we find useful pictures on the web, we have to get the permission first. We have to make a judgement first that whether it is of great news value and then we get to contact the audience who has published the information to verify and also ask for permission to use the pictures.”

This means journalists keep searching what’s happening online through social media such as Twitter and Facebook and find sources close to the story.

“Journalist used to wait for official documents, phone calls or they just went out to find news sources. But now it is much more convenient to get richer and quicker stories because people will post them on the Internet.” (Silvia Costeloe)

UGC as news content

Public’s information can also be used as the content in a news stories, especially for breaking news.

For example, on 7th July, 2005, there was a bombing at bus and subway station in London. BBC’s UGC Hub received more than 1,000 pictures, 4,000 text messages and 1,000 emails from different witnesses and relevant personage within the first 6 hours after the severe explosion. UGC Hub carefully selected useful and impressive one and after the verificaiton they posted them on their websit to update the latest information.

“Trapped underground” photo from citizen on the spot of explosion

UGC can be an effective compensation of the limitation of traditional media. When traditional media can not get to the spot in time, media can adopt UGC after verification and getting permission which helps the news reporting. Director of BBC Chinese Wen Li said: “We really depend on our audience in reporting breaking news.”

BBC also has a column named “Have Your Say” especially designed for people to post pictures and videos directly.

BBC “Have Your Say” homepage | Clipper

There is the entrance of this page which you can find on the navigation bar on the BBC news website homepage. This is a column similar to CNN’s “iReport”.

All contents on this page are uploaded by audience. People can directly submit their videos they shoot or pictures they take. And you can also see BBC’s contact such as phone number, email address and Twitter. BBC encourages users to participate in the construction of the column.

“With the continuous development of new media, the audience is no longer just a recipient of news but gradually become creators and disseminators. Content from audience has increasingly become an important part of the BBC news production.” (Wen Li)

UGC: the most efficient way of feedback

The audience’s comment and discussion of the news reports are also important forms to participation. BBC used to receive feedback letters or phone calls from audience but this took a long time and very few people would really wirte or phone the newsroom. But nowadays audience can directly make comments on their news production through Internet, which helps to improve their job and know more about their audience.



Processing UGC

Verification matters

Although UGC is now playing an important role in BBC’s news production, information provided by the audience is difficult to tell its authenticity and accuracy. BBC has been one of the victims.

Once a reader contributed pictures to BBC news website and said they were taken in Syria. Soon after posting them to the public, an Italian photographer complained to BBC that pictures were taken in Iraq several years ago and said BBC was cheating. Li said: “This made certain impact on BBC’s reputation.”

“Therefore, in the new media era, how we can improve the ability of verification is very important.”

How BBC UGC Hub deal with thousands of the materials found on social media about a news event? Producer of UGC Hub Soumer Daghastani gives a brief introduction about the news routine with user generated content.

BBC World News Impact — UGC Hub

Referring to Trushar Barot, a former assistant editor of the UGC and Social Media Hub at BBC News, the verification works of UGC Hub can be concluded as three main areas of activity:

  • Sourcing

When receiving useful news sources from the BBC News audience, staff of UGC Hub would search social media platforms for authority information, pictures and videos to make sure whether it is accuracy or not before they give the source to correpondents to follow up.

On a breaking news story UGC Hub would observe for a while to see what is going to happen, looking for pictures and videos of the event as well as turning to experienced colleagues or experts to help them have better understanding and judgement of the event. And they would find eyewitnesses to verify the news source if necessary.

  • Verifying content

For the content verification, BBC UGC Hub has developed guidelines as a checking list to check every detail about the materials provided by the audience. Generally the most common sessions are:

  1. To look for potential eyewitnesses: contact the eyewitnesses to get basic information of them and ensure their security;
  2. To deal with pictures and videos received on social media platforms: consider the copyrights and the creators and analyse the digital information;
  3. To consult experts: get their advice and assessment for reference, which can be vary in different cases.
  • Reviewing

UGC Hub also has to review the comments and opinions of the website of the mass audience. For some sensitive topics such as children or ethnic conflicts, all comments are reviewed before publication, which means they won’t be shown on the website in the real time.

It can be very difficult for editors to review such a large amount of comments. Therefore, the BBC website embeds the “Warning (Alert)” function for readers to help find inappropriate comments. Staff of UGC Hub find that it is the mature audience who are more trustworthy that would exercise their right of the “warning” most of the time.




UGC became the only source

Special situation during media blackout

Unseen Gaza

There was a severe media blackout in Gaza in 2009. Foreign media were banned entering the area. What’s more, terrorists detected the signals and then targeted people’s position, which made it difficult for journalists to slip in to gather information.

The most irritating thing about the Hamas government’s decision to ban Palestinian journalists in Gaza from working for Israeli media outlets is what the decision implies: The journalists have been turned into collaborators, at least from the perspective of the Palestinian public.
Gaza Strip

Media outlet of BBC had to stay in military area far away from the spot. As Charles Ward — a BBC war correspondent for more than 20 years — said, BBC had to report the war situation using what they called “second hand”.

Despite of the official documents, the only available source for BBC was the uploaded information on social media from people in Gaza.

Syria conflict

Situation was similar during the very beginning six-month of the Syria conflict in 2011. Foreign journalists were banned to enter the conflict area and news media such as BBC, CNN, Associated Press had to cooperated with local people to get information inside. That is to say, UGC had become a very vital source for media in this case.

Local media may publish news and information about the country and the conflict as well. However they were largely regarded to be controlled by the government or the organization. Foreign media would like to get information in other ways while referring to the official materials. Therefore, UGC became the key of news reporting.

“In addition to attacking the messengers working in the mainstream media, the Assad government has gone after citizen journalists and the raw news material they provide. News organizations struggle to determine if the video that comes out by a social networks is what activists claim it is that’s where groups like the Syrian network for Human Rights come in. Consisting of Syrians living abroad with conections inside the country they help mainstream outlets determine what is genuine and what is not.” (Syria’s Media Blackout by Listening Post)

A research by Lisette Johnston(2013) suggests that both reporters and staff such as those at the UGC Hub of BBC have gained new experience in developing new practices and verification measures to ensure non-BBC content can go on air in that tough condition.

Later the situation gradually went smoothly both inside and outside Syria and the relationship between Syrians also had eased. There was an increased level of engagement for the verification of user generated content because more information had been released, however, the editor was still the very person who had the final say.

Editors struggled hard to verify all related words, pictures, audios and videos, comparing them with the tools and also the official documents.

Syria’s Media Blackout

Therefore, in this perspective, we could not say media has given in to audience’s engagement but UGC did play an important role, or say, became the main source of journalism.




UGC challenges journalists’ career?

Journalists’ attitudes toward UGC

Vanessa Edwards, broadcast journalist:

“I feel the new working patterns favor young people. The UGC speeds up the working pace of the newsroom because so many information crowd into the newsroom. ”

Natalie Miller, assistant editor of UGC Hub:

“UGC put stress on editorial job so it put pressure to editors. Correspondents and photo journalists may doubt the value of their job. But this worry will disappear soon because it is much more trustful to get information by our own staff. ”

Actually relationship between media and audience has been greatly change due to UGC. BBC actively seeks various means to increase audience’s engagement while the public would like to participate in public discourse. This obvious trend is keeping on searching a new balance between the two parties to help journalists do better jobs.

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