A lot of people have been asking who the ‘online community’ that we keep on referring to is at JOMEC over the last couple of weeks. People have been blogging on it, debates have been raging in and out of the classroom and our most recent lecture was on who the ‘U’ in ‘UGC’ is. While it has pretty much been established that the contributors are not representative of the public as a whole, I have been questioning who it is that actually reads, watches and otherwise engages with user contributions.
The simplest answer to that question is pretty much everybody. Heather Hopkins head of research at Hitwise UK tells us that user-generated sites are becoming increasingly popular with people looking for news, “Earlier this year, we looked at three major news events: Saddam Hussein’s hanging, Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt during the World Cup, and the Israel-Lebanon conflict.
“When we looked at how people were searching for those events, and where they went after they’d searched, we found Google News, Wikipedia and YouTube figured more prominently than the sites of mainstream media news companies.”
This is being acknowledged by media chiefs, who must “adapt or die” according to ITV online Jon Godel. “We believe it is important to gauge the mood of the public and some members of the community, ethnic minorities or those with niche interests who have a social experience that is just not represented in mainstream news shows,” he said.
But what is the best way to do this with out undermining the tradition of quality news that these media centres have built their empires on? The BBC and CNN are the two biggest media corporations to develop separate user generated content sites: CNN with iReport and the BBC with Have Your Say. Jack Schofield recently argued in the Guardian, that providing these separate services with their own branding ensures that readers “do not confuse its professional news service with an unfiltered platform run by users.”
He may be right. As web 2.0 ensures that UGC = page views = advertising = money, it is important that users of UGC are able to see that it is just that. It’s not quality or investigative journalism… but it does give them a voice.