November 27, 2014

Putting the newsroom back in control

by Fergus Bell

In the news industry we can’t predict the future to always be in the right place at the right time. Nobody can. So when a tornado hits in the middle of the night, or a plane blows an engine, user-generated content means that the story can still be told.

During a breaking news event it is the residents of a remote town or the casual passer-by who happens to catch the content newsrooms increasingly need. These people instantly have a valuable commodity and they are sharing it with their friends via their personal networks. Often they don’t even know what it means to be caught up in a story and for newsrooms this poses a number of technical, workflow and ethical challenges.

There have always been people, both in the news industry and outside it, who have doubted that information shared on social media, or content captured on mobile phones would ever make such an impact on traditional news. With the amount of user-generated content now being produced – more than 16 years worth of video is uploaded to YouTube every day – the tide is more than turning, it’s become a huge wave and we can either fight against it or embrace the flow.

With this change, newsrooms need to consider new workflows and policies which address these challenges, but at the same time meet the needs of their audiences who are faced with increasing choice in where they consume their news. Our audiences expect journalists to be accessing and verifying tweets, photos and videos that are popping up in their own social streams. If an audience can find an original source, then of course the journalists they choose to invest in must be able to do the same and more. There is so much more that can be done to allow journalists to access UGC quickly, accurately and fairly from people who capture incredible content.

At SAM I will be heading up Newsroom Partnerships and Innovation, working with newsrooms to make sure that organisations, not only a few early adopters, can start channelling that ever growing wave of social news content and UGC into fantastic journalism and stories worth telling. I’ll be in a position to hear what newsrooms need, feed that back to the quickest working development team in the business and help drive innovation forward. The thing that drew me to SAM in the first place was that it was born out of a need to provide a scalable solution to the news industry and therefore is intensely focused on improving the way journalists can use social for newsgathering and storytelling.

SAM also has a commitment to creating a product that allows the news industry to work to the highest ethical standards when it comes to UGC. That can mean something as simple as not being able to publish UGC without a credit to the user, to being able to tag graphic imagery so that only those staff in a newsroom who really need to see it do, while maintaining the wellbeing of the rest of the team.

I am excited to join the SAM team because I sincerely believe that by working with journalists across the industry we can start charting a future course for UGC that embraces all the wonderful opportunities that this new mixture of technology and journalism has to offer.

About Fergus

Fergus joins SAM from the Associated Press where he was the first International Social Media and UGC Editor with a specific focus on digital newsgathering and the verification of user-generated content. Fergus is also a member of the Online News Association’s news ethics committee where he co-leads the organisations UGC ethics initiative. A graduate of Leeds University, Fergus has also worked at CNN international and ITN.

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