In today’s world of viral videos and retweets, many broadcast journalists turn to user-generated content to stay relevant with their audiences. User-generated content (UGC) generally means content contributed by someone who doesn’t work for the broadcaster and isn’t paid for his or her content (usually video).
User-generated content is not a new development of the digital age. In the past, TV stations sometimes used video or pictures viewers sent in from the scene of a developing story. Broadcasters still use this type of content, especially in instances of breaking news where the TV crew can’t reach the scene in time, but today, broadcasters are also collecting user-generated content from social networks like YouTube and Facebook.
Filling in Coverage Gaps
UGC is increasingly used in situations where no other video is available. In the past, if you wanted to cover a car accident, you raced to the scene to get video of the aftermath – the cracked-up cars, the backed-up traffic, bystanders who were willing to be interviewed on camera.
Today, everyone has a cell phone camera, and people often get video of accidents and other news events as they happen, or immediately afterward – even before authorities and reporters can arrive at the scene. Sometimes you get lucky and find there are multiple pieces of content for the same event, allowing you to view the news from different angles and decide which is best for your audience.
This type of content is especially useful in situations where sending in a news team might be dangerous or prohibited by law. A recent Tow Center study showed the most common type of story using some form of UGC is “conflict/war/military,” with 44% of user-generated content usage. The next most common was “vehicular crashes” at 21%, followed by “protests” at 17%.
The Syrian conflict of 2013 was cited as an example of a situation where journalists were mostly prohibited from entering the country, or roaming freely if they were already there. During that conflict, much of broadcasters’ news coverage of the events came from UGC.
Using Both Still Pictures and Video
The report goes on to note that broadcasters use video about 70% of the time they run user-generated content, and still pictures about 30% of the time. Broadcasters’ websites are more even, with 49% video and 51% photos in UGC.
Identifying User-Generated Content Still a Challenge
User-generated content is described in a variety of ways. When a viewer sends video directly to the station, anchors usually note that the footage was “sent in by a viewer.” UGC from social media is a lot murkier. Depending on the situation, it may be called “activist video” if it pertains to a protest.
Sometimes it’s attributed to the social network where it was found—“from YouTube”, “courtesy of Vine”—and sometimes it’s even called “amateur video” (generally only if the video quality is poor and the station wants viewers to know they’re not responsible for it). “Eyewitness video/photo” is another way of describing it.
UGC is not always identified for what it is at all. The Tow Center study found that 74% of the time, UGC was not called user-generated content in any way. On television, the individual contributing the content was only credited about 49% of the time, although news websites did better, crediting the originator about 72% of the time.
Potential Legal Challenges
While items on social media are generally meant to be shared, some social networks’ terms state that content is only to be shared by individuals, not businesses. A Broadcast Law Blog article from 2014 points out that even attributing the content to its original creator doesn’t always protect a broadcaster from lawsuits.
A common cause of lawsuits against broadcasters is improperly using photos found on the internet. Content posted on a TV station’s website is especially problematic. When in doubt, it’s best to check with your station’s policy on sourcing video/photos or, in some situations, check with the station’s legal counsel.
For more on navigating the legal challenges and How to Utilize User-Generated Content, please click here.