Marrying television and the web

I must admit, I drew inspiration for this blog from Bradley Howard, and his discussion on the televisual web. This got me thinking—what does that even mean?

We already know that user-generated content is making a name for itself, as we see it used more and more every single day in television newscasts across the country. But here’s something I’ve never thought of before (until today!): television itself is becoming more personalized, from the moment you turn it on. Two months ago while I was in Dallas, I stayed at the Omni Hotel, and when I turned my TV on in my room, it said “Welcome Eva Buchman!” I remember being completely blown away by this—my TV knows who I am! This is becoming a very popular practice, however. People want exclusivity and convenience.

This personalization, however, as writer Ryan Lawler discusses, could pose a very serious problem for television networks. Through the use of DVR machines alone, people are able to watch what they want, when they want. No longer are the days of just watching one program because it was the only thing on. Thanks to DVR’s, and many other services and programs, content is constantly new and fresh. It’s hardly a worry anymore that you might have to watch re-runs (unless you want to!) How does this relate to citizen journalism, though? Good question.

Personalization certainly levels the playing field quite a bit, wouldn’t you think? If there’s a blog you really enjoy reading in the morning, more than CNN or CBS news, you can set that as your default homepage and never think twice about it. The same is true with TV. Say, for example, you’ve become a big fan of a show that is produced and just posted online (a new show, that hasn’t gotten its footing yet); consumers still have the ability to link YouTube up to their television sets to watch it! It’s getting easier and easier to not be a big name television network, news station, or media figure to make your media presence known—a good thing for citizen journalists.

This personalization takes away control from media companies and television networks, as they cannot control what people DVR or if anyone even still pays attention to what’s in the prime time slot on any given night.

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A new found respect

Every day this week I’ve been asked to post a blog pertaining to my topic, and I must say—wow that was hard! I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into this assignment, but I survived! It was much harder than I was expecting in the beginning. I’m a planner, and I had already had most of my topics planned out that I wanted to write about, but finding the time to actually sit down and write a substantial post was difficult!

Over the course of this week, I feel that I’ve definitely gotten better at finding ideas to write about. I know it sounds silly, but I found often times that when I was looking for sources, I came up with new and different ideas that I hadn’t previously thought of. This was incredibly helpful, just to see what others had previously been talking about, and putting my own spin on it, being able to offer a college student’s perspective.

I would definitely say I’ve developed an entirely new respect for full-time bloggers, who use this medium as their income and way of life. It’s incredibly different to always come up with a new, fresh idea that keeps both you and the readers interested. It’s so laborious to write about something you have no interest in. Sometimes, there just isn’t anything readily available to write about, and this is where the real work comes in. Digging deep and doing research to come up with something meaningful and helpful to your readers is so difficult, because nobody wants their blog to be boring. I can see why experts indicate it is best to update your blog a few times a week. It’s certainly possible that blogs could lose quality because they’re trying to increase their quantity.

While it definitely got easier to come up with new ideas over the course of the week, by no means would I call this assignment “easy.” I learned one of the best things you can do is plan ahead! It was so much easier to sit down and type one or two blog posts a few days before they were due, because it gave me time to look back over them and make corrections, add a new idea, etc. I couldn’t imagine writing a blog post on the day it was due. I kind of approached this assignment like I would writing a paper—I would write it, and then go back and re-read it to make sure everything was coherent and I truly was expressing what I wanted to.

I have a whole new level of respect for professional, full-time bloggers! I didn’t realize the amount of research that was required to do this full-time, but bloggers should certainly be commended for the amount of work they do!

New skills needed to be a journalist

We’ve heard time and time again, to be a journalist, you need a certain skill set. You need to like people, not be afraid to ask questions, be a good writer, etc. In today’s day and age though, is all that still necessarily true? I would argue that there are a few things that have been added to that list–so all aspiring journalists–take note!

Here's just a small list of some of the skills new journalists will likely need. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Here’s just a small list of some of the skills new journalists will likely need. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

The Future of Media Lab explains that video production and multi-media skills are all but absolutely required anymore, thanks to the collaborative journalism world we are finding ourselves in. By no means does this mean that more traditional skills are no longer important—it’s quite the opposite situation, actually. What employers are looking for now are journalists who can do more. There have been budget cuts and staff cuts as a repercussion, which means a journalist who can do the job that used to require two people is going to be very marketable.

As a journalist in today's market, you'll have at least one of these titles, if not more. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

As a journalist in today’s market, you’ll have at least one of these titles, if not more. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Understanding social media is also a very important skill when looking for a job in today’s journalism market. Utilizing social media can have a strong impact in how stories are reported and shared within communities, and more often reporters are using Twitter to report on breaking news situations, because it allows them to provide minute-by-minute updates. Not every story, however, translates well to social media. Working in a community, a reporter should be able to understand what their followers are looking for and be able to provide that through Facebook and Twitter. Certain stories will get more play time than others.

There are several skills and traits that are almost necessary to get a job now that weren’t even 10 years ago, just simply thanks to the changing industry. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve, but as a new journalist entering the market, one of the best things you can do is get as much experience as you can and continuously stick to developing new skills. The more things you can be good at, the more appealing you will be to potential employers. At the end of the day, you have to do something to set yourself apart from the rest.

TV may take the biggest hit

The internet and social media have arguably become the fastest way for news to spread. Second to that, however, television is probably the second fastest. With their ability to get a news crew to the scene nearly all day, television stations are generally pretty quick to report news. This, however, with the added component of citizen journalism, can also pose a threat to television news.

While television news is popular, the Internet is catching up in terms of news consumption. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

While television news is popular, the Internet is catching up in terms of news consumption. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Some reports show that television could stand to take the biggest his thanks to citizen journalism. Think about it– if a newspaper happens to land some great user-generated content after they’re already gone to print, there’s nothing they can really do with it until the next day. With most television stations nowadays, there is a 10 or 11 pm newscast, and with the national TV circuit, 24-hour news coverage is the norm. Cable television has already seen a decrease in subscriptions over the past decade, likely a sign that more people are choosing to rely mainly on the internet for their news consumption.

Television stands to take the biggest hit from citizen journalism because if a citizen happens to snap a photo or video, likely the first place they’re going to post it is to social media, where news has the opportunity to spread like wildfire.

Around 70% of all adults use some type of social media platform– more than enough to at least see news from others, if not share it on their own personal accounts. While a TV station is working to get a crew to the scene, details are often still emerging and unfolding.

News can spread on the Internet in a mere matter of seconds. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

News can spread on the Internet in a mere matter of seconds. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

In my opinion, the best thing television stations (whether they’re local or national) is to accept citizen journalism and user-generated content and try to work with it instead of fight it. As they say, two heads are better than one, and in this case, two journalism forces are better than one. By accepting user-generated content for exactly what it is–content– TV stations can work to put out an even better quality product night in and night out.

Downsides of paying citizen journalists

After talking yesterday about the idea of paying citizen journalists for content, we need to examine how realistic this actually is. Personally, I don’t think it’s that easy. There’s a lot to consider here, remember: you get what you pay for.

Logistically thinking, how do you standardize this process? News organizations may think to make a database of citizen journalists they rely on and then come up with a payment schedule, but again that pesky idea of breaking news comes up. With the prevalence of social media, using a photo from a person you’ve never worked with before may be the best option. The mere thought of trying to come up with a streamlined list of citizen journalists in your community just sounds like a nightmare.

In the heat of the moment, in the middle of a busy news day, I’m sure one of the last things professional journalists are concerned about is making sure they have everybody’s information that provides them with content or leads them to an interview source. It almost seems like there needs to be one person who is dedicated to this task, but it sounds like it could be very stressful!

There are ethical concerns, too, which are never easy to resolve. The Society of Professional Journalists disagrees with this practice wholeheartedly, because it calls into serious question the credibility of the information right off the bat. Ideally, news organizations would want to think citizens are providing information out of a desire to do better, but payment could significantly change the nature of the relationship from the beginning.

Courtesy: Reflections of a Newsosaur

Courtesy: Reflections of a Newsosaur

Being a citizen journalist is more risky than perhaps people originally think, because they lack the same types of protections that professional journalists do. This could further be complicated with a monetary transaction, because (god forbid) a court get involved, someone may always take issue with money being exchanged.

So back to this saying, you get what you pay for. Albeit a critical blog, Planet Jeffro brings up some really good points about this saying. Patch.com, a “hyper-local” news site, pays $40/story. This doesn’t seem like much (it’s not, really), but whether a story is written well and has proper punctuation is only half the battle. How much “reporting” was really done? It’s certainly not fair to think that two people could get paid for the same thing, while the amount of work put in could be completely unequal.

Certainly I think it’s fair to consider the idea of paying citizen journalists, but taking into account the fact that there isn’t even a standard among all journalism outlets for how to use citizen journalism, we’re probably a long way off from seeing any real payment for stories, sources, photos, videos, audio, etc.

Money may be the motive

After all this talk of citizen journalism, one is eventually going to ask the all-dreaded question: “are we getting paid for this?” I mean, in our society, isn’t money everything? Why would I do something if I can’t get paid for it? In some situations, I can see justification for wanting to be paid for their work, however I think there are also some logistical problems to consider. Today, we’ll examine some reasons citizen journalists could and should be paid for their work.

A badge that many people in the community are wearing.

A badge that many people in the community are wearing.

In a breaking news situation, I could see the justification for a citizen journalist wanting to be paid for their work, if they have an up-close or personal account of an event because they happened to be in the right place at the right time. Whether it be video or audio, this type of information can be extremely valuable to a news organization who is perhaps en route to the scene but cannot be there immediately.

Having an incentive for citizen journalists is a great way to keep them coming back, and to continue to produce high quality work for news organizations. As Steve Outing suggests, however, direct cash payment may not be the way to go. Keeping in mind that citizen journalists are not trained, nor on payroll, providing them with other items, such as t-shirts, mugs, hats, and maybe even early access to a story would be better. In order for citizen journalism to be successful, it has to be a give-and-take relationship from both the news organization and the citizen participant.

If news organizations start paying for user-generated content, the process could look something like this. Courtesy: Google Images

If news organizations start paying for user-generated content, the process could look something like this. Courtesy: Google Images

While most news organizations aren’t used to it yet, they may have to adapt to paying for content that is of the best quality.

People are smart and are going to figure out that they can be paid for high quality content, and once it starts with one (or a few) news organizations, the idea is going to spread to more. The idea of submitting your work to a news organization only to have them take full copyright protection of it can be off-putting to many people, so at least getting some type of compensation may quell that fear and start another revolution in the world of citizen journalism. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some of the downsides of paying citizen journalists for work- and there may be more than you think.

A (potential) transfer of authority

Now with the use of social media more prevalent than ever before, a whole new wave of challenges have presented themselves, left for journalists to figure out. It’s becoming an everyday thing, that people in the community send in photos, videos, story ideas, source information, etc., to working, professional journalists, so how should the news organizations they work for even approach the idea of posting these things? There are several ethical dilemmas this practice brings up, one main one being, who takes responsibility?

Say something goes wrong (like it did in the Boston Bombing case, when originally a photo went viral of a “person of interest” who had absolutely nothing to do with the case)- who is to blame? The person who sends it in or the news organization that took the chance and posted it without making sure the information was accurate? Personally, I would argue it becomes the organization that takes the risk and posts user-generated content online. After all, at the end of the day, if your organization’s name is attached to it, you’re going to have to take the fall (for the good) and for the bad.

Writer Charlie Beckett says that it’s crazy to think that people can’t make a judgment call about what’s appropriate or not, and thinks that relying only on one method (conventional) journalism is segmenting and cuts off a large part of stories that professional journalists can’t cover, for whatever reason.

Issues of authentication, accountability, and potential conflicts of interest are all areas that need to be researched and understood before just deciding whether or not to post user-generated content—there’s a lot on the line!

There is a problem with videos, too. Often times we see that a video from a breaking news event can go viral, and there is no attribution gives to the person who shot it, and it only takes one person to raise doubts about the authentication of any type of content for a news organization to have to do major damage control. YouTube, arguably the most popular video share site, has thousands of videos posted daily, and large amounts of the news videos are posted by citizens. It’s not unusual or wrong for a news organization to take these videos, but they should be careful before they make any decisions.

YouTube, the world's most popular video-share site, gets millions of video uploads a day. Courtesy: Google Images

YouTube, the world’s most popular video-share site, gets millions of video uploads a day. Courtesy: Google Images

While there haven’t been any major cases of citizen journalism gone wrong, all it takes is one time and one person’s bad decision. There are still so many questions surrounding citizen journalism, and because it’s still relatively new, there isn’t a set standard for how news organizations should handle user-generated content. It’s up to each one on their own to does what works best for them. If a citizen journalist starts to get involved in working with a news organization, I think it may be smart for that organization to hold some type of training seminar (just simple guidelines) about what they’re looking for, and the journalistic principles they stand by and respect, that way there is not any discrepancy when the time comes for the citizen journalist to turn in a story. What do you think?