That would have been nice to know

As we’ve discussed already, it’s obvious there are other uses for citizen journalism outside of breaking news. The other way we often see user-generated content finding its way into TV newscasts quite often is during a “DIY” segment, or something similar.

I notice this especially when a new product has come out and its kind of taking over the market. Especially then, viewers often see a “Does it really work?” segment or something equal.

In my opinion, these add the most value outside of breaking news. Why? Because it adds a personal perspective. What’s better than seeing if a product works before you spend your money on it?


This is my brother and I, a few years ago on Christmas morning. I’m sure my dad would have loved to know if whatever toy he was about to spend countless hours putting together was actually going to work. Enter: “Does this really work?” segments! Photo credit: Sharon Buchman

These segments aren’t like the your typical “infomercial” that runs at obscure hours of the night on a non-stop rotation. I’m talking about the taped (or live) segments, that reporters go to homes of people to film. These segments are also often filmed at a mall, or another public location when many people are available for testing. There are several news stations that do this well.

One is 19 Action News, in Cleveland, Ohio. They have a consumer investigative reporter who tests different products to see if they hold up to their claims. What’s more, however, is that the news station specifically asks for viewers to write in and submit ideas for what products should be tested. This two-way communication and interaction is one of the biggest benefits of user-generated content. It gets people talking and sharing ideas.

Or consider this news station, which has an entire page dedicated to “Does it really work like that?” More and more, we see reporters who are designated specifically for this type of work. These reporters interact with the community, build the journalist/source relationship, and tell a story, all in a three-minute demonstration.


News, sports, what else?

So, besides news and sports, what else is there that user-generated content can be submitted for? It sounds silly, but weather is the answer! It’s actually really smart if you think about it! If there’s a big storm coming through the area, there is a lot of developing news going on in a short amount of time. The best case of user-generated content being used for weather is at NBC4 Washington, in D.C., where they consistently ask for photos and videos of road closures, snowfall, and any other important breaking details involving a severe weather situation. There are obviously different types of severe weather situations, including heavy rainfall (that may bring on flash flooding), wind damage, and potential hurricane/tornado damage, to name a few. NBC4 Washington covers all of these weather situations well, with the help of user-generated content sent to them by viewers.

To develop interactivity and two-way communication between the station, NBC4 always asks for photos to be sent in of people enjoying the snow on the ground, as way as updates on road conditions, neighborhoods that have (or haven’t) been plowed, power outages, snowfall amounts, downed trees and power lines and other details when a weather situation occurs.

A few examples of the user-generated content that NBC4 Washington uses can be found here:

Remember Snowmageddon, from 2009? My hometown had over 50 inches from a February storm. Photo credit: Eva Buchman

Remember Snowmageddon, from 2009? My hometown had over 50 inches from a February storm. My mom and I were lucky enough to have to shovel the driveway.  Photo credit: Eva Buchman

NBC4 Washington utilizes a special e-mail just for viewers to submit content, This makes it easier for NBC4 to find user-generated content, without searching through social media.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas– or not

There’s a whole different world to citizen journalism besides “traditional news”—what about the segment that comes towards the end? My favorite: Sports! Now is the perfect time to talk about how citizen journalism plays a gigantic role in the spreading of sports news that might not otherwise make it. Riley Cooper— you remember, the wide receiver for the Eagles who was caught on video shouting a racial slur toward an African-American bodyguard at a Kenny Chesney concert for not letting him backstage? Ordinarily, this may not have ever even been a big deal, because who would have even noticed? But thanks to cell phone video, it was caught on tape by a woman hanging out with Cooper at the concert, and then shopped around to different websites (albeit, for money). Here’s a really in-depth account from Deadspin about how the video even got released. Pretty interesting stuff!

A series of tweets posted to Riley Cooper's account, following his PR nightmare.

A series of tweets posted to Riley Cooper’s account, following his PR nightmare.

Or consider ever-popular target of discussion, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He first broke his arm November 18, and had surgery. He returned to play a little over a month later, on December 30, in the Pats playoff game against the Houston Texans. He broke his arm again in this game in a different spot, again requiring surgery. This time, however, things got interesting. In February, in Las Vegas, while attending a Superbowl party, freshly removed from surgery—a video magically emerged of Gronkowski dancing shirtless and performing a wrestling move (with his surgically repaired arm still in a cast/sling). Of course, this caught fire almost immediately. But why?

People have access to photos and videos literally at their fingertips at any given time. Did Gronkowski and Cooper realize these videos (that they probably didn’t even know were being taped) were going to be released? …Likely not. They’re publically recognizable figures, though, so it’s all the more fascinating for people who are out, and in the same club or at the same concert, as these guys to take photos and videos. Whether it’s ethical or not for these videos to be shopped around to websites and television stations is an entirely different debate, but these two cases are prime examples of how quickly news can spread. These videos almost immediately made their way on to television stations across the country, including CNN, ESPN, and several other nationally known and smaller market stations.

For example—Gronkowski has been in the news ever since then, and there’s now discussions going on about his absence creating tension on the team. Riley Cooper, on the other hand, took a leave of absence from the Eagles to get some counseling after his racial slur gone viral video. Sports, my friends… is an entirely different world. Without user-generated content, these issues would have never been “issues” to begin with, but with both of these instances, I know we all remember ESPN talking about it for days… and days… and days. 

Case Study: Revamping MSNBC

As I’ve said all semester long, I’m going to examine a few case studies about user-generated content and television. First up, NBCUniversal’s recent acquisition of With that acquisition, they now have iVillage, something that NBC Digital Chief Vivian Schiller promises to make a more prominent part of NBC’s revamped online presence.

The purpose of the iVillage is to give users an outlet to voice their opinions as well as to peruse content already posted. Social media is a great way to reach out to your audience, and a great way to hear back from them as well.

Schiller seems to hint that iVillage is really aimed at all types of content, as it aims to re-launch as a “community-driven platform surfacing the most important perspectives on topics that matter most to women.” An important thing to remember with blogs and user-generated content sites that are similar is that it’s okay to exclude people, as long as you narrow down your focus but execute it well.

Looking at iVillage, their about page says they reach 30 million different visitors per month- a lofty number for a website that has just revamped itself completely. This isn’t citizen journalism for television in the traditional sense, because it’s not just a website where you submit stories or photos and that’s it. Their main idea of connecting is through message boards. There are many different conversation topics that you can choose from by just simply creating an account and joining the conversation.

Looking at, one of the most prominent features is a “Speak Out” tab at the top, which immediately indicates to viewers they have the ability to vote in polls and discuss things going on in the news. By voting in a poll, these numbers often show up in MSNBC’s news broadcasts, so this is just one outlet where people can express their opinions. There is also an option to join a group and discuss current situations going on. Currently, the three most popular groups listed are “American Progressives,” “Up to Here,” and “UP to Politics,” which you can join by creating an account.

The top of, showing where viewers can join the conversation. Photo credit: Eva Buchman

The top of, showing where viewers can join the conversation. Photo credit: Eva Buchman

MSNBC is really putting in a lot of work to revamp their online presence and including more people in their conversations and appeal to a wider audience.

How do you even start?

Journalism isn’t for everyone—we know that. We see it every day. There are good cases and bad cases of citizen journalism. If someone gets accused of something, and they turn out to be innocent, it becomes a case of “we jumped the gun.” If something happens, and no citizen steps forward, it turns into “why didn’t anybody say anything?”

I’m sure a lot of you don’t know how to even get started in citizen journalism. It’s such a daunting task, I’m sure. So what can you do? I mentioned previously, start small. Don’t fret, however. There are many, many resources out there to help you get started. Tips for how to piece together a story, how to use online software and equipment for audio/visual, you name it. It’s out there waiting to help someone.

There are more platforms than just the CNN i-Report that citizen journalists can use. In fact, some of these sites in growing in popularity daily. Each one may operate a little differently, but in the end they all strive to work for the same purpose—to give citizen journalists a voice.

If you’re not sure how to properly tell a story, don’t worry! There are resources for that as well. These tips are great for writing, and the overall act of citizen journalism—the ethics behind it, and what’s important in telling a good story.

Especially in television, it can be difficult to understand how news spreads to quickly. If you start reporting on and submitting content, you can quickly become fairly well-known, even if it is just in your own community. It’s a cool thing to think about, though, because what’s better than talking about the things that are important to you?

Seize the opportunity

As discussed in my last post, I talked about the CouncilStat program in New York City, in which citizens can write in make city officials aware of different problems happening in their neighborhoods. This is a great way to include citizens in city discussions, and is an easy way for citizens to start gaining a voice, and some ground, in their own neighborhoods. We’re seeing this pop up more every single day, although the thought can seem daunting.

In general, it seems like a broad, out of reach idea that citizen journalism can actually have an impact on a national scale. Sure, we’ve seen it when a breaking news situation occurs… you know, when one photo gets shared, shared again… and the next thing you know, it’s on CNN? How often does this actually happen though? More than likely… not very often.

Instead, citizen journalists should start small. Start writing for a community newspaper (or newsletter, if you have one), attend a City Hall meeting and share your ideas and opinions, things like that. Writing about things happening around you, from your point of view, is what’s going to draw attention. A blog written by Ron Ross gives more good tips for being a good citizen journalist, but the one that stuck out to me the most was passion. Be passionate about what’s going on, be passionate about where you live, and be passionate about what you want to see happen in your area. If you’re driven, you can make it happen. Citizens provide a different perspective than a reporter who is assigned to write a story, and that’s exactly what makes citizen journalism unique.

There are several news stations around where I am, in Morgantown, that are already looking for citizens story ideas, tips, photos, audio, etc. We’re finally seeing an expanded use for user-generated content beyond breaking news. While these are just a few news stations (and opportunities) out of many, it should give people an idea of the opportunities that are available. So what are you waiting on? Go take advantage!

Not your “expected” citizen journalism

We’ve talked enough about breaking news, and what happens when anyone with a smart phone is in the right place at the right time, so today we’re switching gears a little bit. I must admit, the idea for this blog spawned from a discussion we had in my class a few days ago. After seeing the iHollaback app, we started talking about another form of citizen journalism- the CouncilStat program that is currently running in New York City. It could be hard to understand how this is citizen journalism because it’s not breaking news- but it is reporting an issue. That’s what journalism is. Talking about things going on within communities— good or bad.


NYC is utilizing CouncilStat, a great way for citizens to keep city officials in the loop about what’s going on in their neighborhoods.
Photo Credit: Whitney Godwin

As you can see based on their website, their main goals are two-fold: to better respond to community needs, and to identify trends in order to best address the problems. At first glance, some people may not think this is citizen journalism, but quite the opposite is actually true. No, many of these things aren’t ever going to make it far beyond the website (potholes that still aren’t fixed more than likely aren’t going to make the national news).

What will though? What if higher crime rates are being reported in one specific area?

In cities as densely populated as New York City, this could always be a possibility. This is incredibly valuable information to city leaders. Specifically related to the CouncilStat website, city leaders are informed on what is happening in the several boroughs. CouncilStat’s website shows statistics for several boroughs dating back to June 2008.

The Bronx is one of five boroughs in New York City that is represented on CouncilStat. Photo credit: Whitney Godwin

The Bronx is one of five boroughs in New York City that is represented on CouncilStat.
Photo credit: Whitney Godwin

Some of these e-government tools are new, but research, from places like The Business of Federal Technology are showing they’re quite effective. Thanks to newer communication channels, citizen satisfaction is rising within the government. While these statistics only represent the federal government, they certainly show hope that local government will jump on board with this new form of interactivity! Something like this would be very useful in Morgantown!

Having a dedicated website where citizens can go report problems, talk to each other about neighborhood issues and events, and get some type of interaction back from the local city leaders, I think, would be a great way to increase the two-way communication and get people involved in solving issues within their community—not just talking about them.