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Benefits of user input outweigh costs

Paul Brannan
“It’s hard work steering through the mountain of material that comes in – but it’s worth it if you can,” said Paul Brannan, deputy editor, BBC News Interactive, speaking at an AOP forum on managing user-generated content last week.

Members can access the event speakers' presentations here.

“There is any number of examples of how our users have lit up BBC journalism,” he added.

Brannan warned that it’s crucial to be properly geared up for receiving and responding to what is sent in: “If you ask people what they think and then ignore what they say, it’s more damaging to your brand than if you hadn’t asked in the first place.”

Brannan showed a BBC video report from the 7 July bombings that incorporated mobile phone footage of people trapped on a tube near Edgware Road, with the sound of injured people crying for help in the next carriage.

Noting that there are examples of big news organisations being "taken to the cleaners" with fake images, Brannan outlined how the BBC handles material sent in by users: six people work full-time on the news "UGC hub" who review and then distribute the material through the BBC. Editorial guidelines are extremely important in judging what material should be used. Brannan said that the age-old journalistic principles of source-checking come into play: “You have to talk to the person and ask detailed questions about where they were when they took the picture or video; check the history data in Photoshop.”

Neil McIntosh
Neil McIntosh, head of editorial development at Guardian Unlimited, pointed out that it’s the minority of users that cause all the headaches on the newspaper’s blogs and forums: “It’s about dealing with the 1.5 per cent that post offensive material, but importantly it’s about nurturing the other 98.5 per cent. Too much punishment and not enough reward is bad for a community.”

McIntosh said that the mass market is less about the high end of creating and posting their own content, but more involved in adoption and collaborative filtering, and that this is where publishers should be focusing their attention: “We don’t do enough to help the vast majority who aren’t interested in leaving comments, but who would interact with us, perhaps to mark down a really stupid comment, praise a really good comment, or add an author to their favourites list. The vast, silent majority could help us make our blogs better.”

Kim Walker, partner and head of intellectual property for AOP associate member law firm Pinsent Masons, explained that though technology changes, it’s the same old law that applies. However, user-generated content and Web 2.0 technology can increase the risks for publishers.

He pointed to the case between MumsNet and Gina Ford where, following complaints from Gina Ford’s lawyers that posts on MumsNet’s message boards defamed the parenting guru, MumsNet removed the offending material 24 hours later. Gina Ford's lawyers claimed this was not ‘expeditious’ enough (the test under law) and, following 15 month battle, MumsNet conceded a fortnight ago.

Walker advised publishers to have strong warranties to ensure that users know what they are and aren’t allowed to post, and to make it easy for users to report misuse.

Robert Marcus from Chat Moderators emphasised the complexities of moderating user-generated content: “Moderation is a bit like being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” he said, “Whether you remove a post [that has caused offence] or not you’re either going to offend the person that posted it or the person that complained.”

Jemima Kiss, new media reporter for the Media Guardian and moderator for the event, summed up: “As often in web world, there are few definite rights and wrongs and no single perfect publishing model that incorporates UGC with professional content. But the way forward begins with flexibility and a willingness to experiment and respond to whatever comes next”.

Members can access the presentations here.

More information on upcoming AOP events available <here>

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