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?


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