The audience is the source and the story

“People who normally wouldn’t tell their stories will now have their own audience, who will continue to serve as a ‘newsworthy’ litmus test.”

While scrolling through my news feed a few weeks ago, I saw Facebook post with a few hundred shares. The woman who wrote the post shared a photo of her engagement ring, and told the kind of heartwarming story that excites viral news editors to no end: While she and her husband picked out a modest $130 ring at the store, a stranger made a rude comment about the size. Her post shared this story, with commentary on our toxic wedding culture. About a week later, almost every major news outlet covered the story.

mandy-velezThe idea of user-generated content is nothing new. But UGC becoming the source, and regarded as news content for digital publishers, is something I predict we’ll see a lot more of in 2017. We won’t just get audiences’ or commenters’ opinions on topics and whip up a quick list. Brands will rely more on “trending” stories, or stories that the public themselves deem newsworthy, when weighing what to cover. Plenty of teams have trending editors already, but thanks to the growth of social as a news tool, the practice is becoming less of a strategy for pageviews or viral “quick hits,” but a necessity to the newsgathering process.

A prime example of this is after the election, when the private Facebook group filled with progressive Hillary Clinton supporters dubbed Pantsuit Nation began ramping up. People posted everything from their personal feelings to reports of hate crimes. Then a woman shared a photo of herself and Hillary Clinton taking a walk. That post wasn’t just a viral photo, it became news: This was one of the few and first public sightings of Clinton. The post made headlines once again. Social accounts began to pop up after that titled “HRC in the Wild,” which allowed the public to post pictures of Clinton out and about.

Twitter’s hashtag trend kicked off this era of UGC-as-news, but with Facebook’s Signal, more Facebook groups created to give the public a voice (i.e. Pantsuit Nation, Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash), and even the early-detection tweet mining tool Dataminr gaining popularity, people who normally wouldn’t tell their stories will now have their own audience, who will continue to serve as a “newsworthy” litmus test.

In 2017, journalists will not only will take this new way of newsgathering seriously, but create strategies and even teams to involve UGC in their process more than ever before.

Mandy Velez is editorial director of Revelist.

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