Media experts have recently given a considerable amount of attention to the potential behind the practice of crowd sourcing. As a journalistic technique, crowd sourcing is heralded as a way to enhance journalism by capitalizing on citizen's desire to participate as a means of improving news coverage. Although the technique remains relatively new and untapped by individual journalists, major news outlets have started developing methods of capturing the output of user-generated content. Working for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Jonathan Stray recently had the opportunity to interview Sylvia Costeloe, a young journalist working for the BBC's User Generated Content (UGC) Hub.
The BBC stands out as one of the few news outlets who have really made an effort to reach out to and collect user generated content produced on the web. Although other news outlets like The Guardian and CNN have developed similar methods for synthesizing the content produced online, none of them have dedicated the time and resources to sifting through all of the user generated content that the BBC does with their special hub.
Located at the "heart" of the BBC's newsroom, the UGC hub began operating on a 24/7 schedule last year. Journalists working within the unit are responsible for using sites like Facebook and Twitter to look for stories or to find first person sources. The BBC journalist, Costeloe, points out that part of their job is to "get in touch" with user feedback or comments which might enhance the information of a story or form the basis for a completely different one. According to Costeloe, a large amount of their most interesting stories "comes from comments."
The unit is particularly important for collecting eyewitness videos and photos of events as they happen around the world. Journalists working for the UGC hub spend a considerable amount of time sifting through material until they come upon "those gems," but doing so pays off. In 2007, the BCC received a Royal Television Society Award for using primarily first person content when covering the 2007 UK floods.
The BBC's UGC hub represents a different approach to crowd sourcing than the one commonly discussed by media professionals. Rather than put the practice of crowd sourcing in the hand of individual reporters, who need to develop and cultivate their own following, the BBC's hub centralizes this process. The BBC's hub acts as the first screening process for information. If everything checks out then the information or the contact is handed off to a reporter for further investigation. The benefit of this model is organization: it reduces the "free-for-all" and competition amongst journalists within the same organization competing for sources.
Source: Nieman Journalism Lab