The Tow Center at the Columbia Journalism School is out with Act 1 of a new report that examines the ways TV news organizations and online media companies employ user-generated content. “Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content in TV News and Online” is a survey of over 1,000 hours of TV and more than 2,200 online pages from channels like Al Jazeera (Arabic and English), BBC World, CNN International, France 24, NHK World, and TeleSUR.
While the report finds that UGC is used daily, there’s no consistent method of labeling material from the audience or crediting those individuals. And the reasons why news channels air user-generated content — and how they discover it — vary widely.
User-generated content is used when other pictures are not available, as the ongoing reliance on it to cover the Syrian conflict demonstrates. The way that UGC was integrated during coverage of the Glasgow helicopter crash and the razing of Lenin’s statue in Kiev during the Ukrainian protests suggests that UGC is often employed as a stopgap before news agency pic- tures emerge—interestingly, even if the professional ones are less dramatic. This was demonstrated during the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death. The news organizations had so much material stockpiled from planning for the event that there was no need to seek out UGC. This, even though there were compelling pictures filmed by people on the streets of South Africa documenting the way the country was reacting to Mandela’s death.
UGC also inspired stories that would otherwise have been ignored, as long as the pictures were compelling enough. Within our sample there were a handful of stories that were driven solely by the UGC that emerged. Some were kicker stories like one about a ship’s cook who was unexpect- edly found alive by a dive team sent to investigate a sunken ship. Others were shocking cases of police brutality captured through secret filming on camera phones.
Researchers found that the majority of content came from Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, but that many outlets also rely on agencies like Storyful, the Eurovision Newsexchange, or Reuters to supply user-generated material as well. You can read the rest of this part of the report here; the full report comes out May 30.