The Next Phase of Citizen Journalism

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By Amanda Belo
Think of all the major events that have happened this year: the election of Pope Francis, the deposition of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, the trial of George Zimmerman, the raging wildfires of Yosemite, the Syrian civil war crisis; in the ever changing and evolving information age, technology allows visual imagery of the who, what, where and when. News media outlets are right there on the scene to provide breaking news coverage in hopes to inform the public on news they deem to matter most.

Digital platforms improve the speed to which that news coverage is delivered, but they also open up the floor to a different realm of news media: citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism is not new and is often distinguished as amateur compared to that of established news organizations. It speaks to the idea of active public involvement in newsgathering and delivering. So what happens when the two worlds collide?

Al Jazeera and BBC News have long utilized what is called user generated content (UGC) where public narratives become firsthand sources via social media or other networking platform are then used for broadcast. For example, during the Libyan public uprising of 2011, personal video shots were the keys to connecting the world to what was happening. Images of people freely protesting in the streets, cars horns honking, National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters’ celebratory chants and gunshots, and flags waving once the late former prime minister, Muammar Gaddafi, had been overthrown.

Driven to not only be the first to break news, but also to show the story on the ground, news organizations are always thinking of innovative ways to make this process easier. The recent acquisition of Stringwire is NBC News’ solution to this process, taking civilian newsgathering to the next phase with live streaming broadcasts.

Founded by New York University graduate Phil Groman (who now joins NBC’s digital team), theyet-to-launch web service Stringwire lets users stream content from phones. Per the official release from NBC, Stringwire was created as a service for news organizations to request video from a network of verified contributors with connected mobile devices capable of streaming video across the globe. The service is part of NBC News’ strategy to create different methods of eyewitness accounts that can be immediately connected to the newsroom and distributed to the public.

How does it work? Stringwire users create channels about an event, for example, and reach out to the Twittersphere to find people who are on the front lines in hopes to connect. Those who have tweeted about the event are then sent an invite to stream video from their phone. Once the invite is accepted through, the Stringwire user now has access to content from the phone and video is streamed live.

In an interview with The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, chief digital officer Vivian Schiller called a swarm of witnesses on Twitter the sweet spot for Stingwire. She also alluded to the possibility of multiple angles. “You could get 30 people all feeding video, holding up their smartphones, and then we could look at that…We’ll be able to publish and broadcast some of them.”

NBC News is not the first to use citizen journalism as a tool. As mentioned before, Al Jazeera streamed videos of civilian points of view in Libya, and the BBC News ‘Have Your Say’ initiative allows users to submit story tips  by any means, from mail to mobile. CNN’s iReport allows the audience to submit and post stories that may be considered for official CNN coverage. Also, earlier this summer, the Associated Press entered into an extended partnership with Bambuser, a social media video service that allows users to stream video from mobile devices. The international news service further exemplified the importance of integrating firsthand reports into news coverage.

In June 2013, AP global director of video news Sandy MacIntyre told Ingrid Lunden of TechCrunch in aninterview, “At end of the day we are judged on being first and right so anything that helps us with the speed of delivery or accuracy through crowdsourcing, we will aggressively want to be in that space.” “Right” is the operative word.

Major issues in citizen journalism are accreditation and being able to contain it, and it has become somewhat of a best practice to regulate all the content that comes in. Many companies adapt their social media policies to regulate citizen journalism.. May 2012 saw the relaunch of Sharek, Al Jazeera’s citizen journalism platform, not only become multilingual, but also improve its user verification system. On, writer Rachel Bartlett reported that Moeed Ahmad of Al Jazeera introduced a new accreditation service that would identify regular contributors of content.

iReport literally gives a stamp of approval. Submissions that are posted are not edited or officially vetted. CNN producers are responsible for deciding whether content is newsworthy, and once everything is screened and fact checked the post is marked with the “CNN iReport” red branding.

In October 2012, Fergus Bell became the official global UGC and social media editor at AP. He became a key player in copyright and authentication oversight of user generated content. Bell and his team made way with its own UGC nine-step verification process later that fall to assure that information is accurate and up to AP code. On, Bell spoke with Craig Silverman in detail about the system and centers around exactitude.

“Even if something is incredibly compelling and it doesn’t pass one of our steps, then it doesn’t go out,” Bell said.

As storytelling becomes more open-ended through the endless possibilities of technology, only time will tell what the next wave of citizen journalism will bring.

About Cision Contributor

This post was written by a guest Cision contributor.

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