Trust and UGC

Ever since the coversation about Flickr, there has been an niggle in the back of my mind about some of the arguments out there that newspapers will cut staff to start to rely more heavily on blogs and other user-generated content [edit user-generated content = UGC].

It’s certainly a fear expressed by the NUJ, and by others. I can see their point and have said that, if profit-driven newspapers groups thought they could increase margins by relying more heavily on UGC, then it would probably happen.

But I’ve started to revise those thoughts of late. If the Flickr question taught me one thing it was that while journalists are debating how UGC will be used in the future, we are not at all sure about how the future content generators might feel about it.

Whilst the value of blogs as sources is, I think, beyond doubt, it doesn’t mean that the Internet is an orchard of social networks for newspapers to cherry-pick content at will… even if there is no legal reason why they shouldn’t.

For example, Flickr is designed for photo sharing. From the comments I’ve recieved, there should be nothing legally wrong with a newspaper providing a Flickr feed on its website. BUT just because it can, doesn’t mean it should or that people will like it if it does.

One of the problems is that we live in suspicious times. The media is badly mistrusted and, whilst people are happy to read about others in the newspaper, they are fearful about getting involved with it themselves. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the lines: “Oh you’re a journalist, so what lies are you going to make up today?” or I’ve had to spend considerable time convincing people that I am, in fact, not going to stitch them up. Personally, it’s insulting, but then that’s the regard our industry is held in.

I suppose, once upon a time, with an army of dedicated readers and no Internet, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to sales if one reader was upset. Now they are a potential content generator, the situation is different. Not only will a lack of trust make it difficult to obtain content, it could also mean that if a paper appears to be doing something else that fits the untrustworthy stereotype, the news and damage will spread.

For example: A paper develops a Flickr feed without building trust in the Flickr community. It has done nothing legally wrong, but it is tapping into a community that will not all be fully paid up subscribers to that newspaper. Therefore, the default position of mistrust is likely to stand and the assumption may be that the newspaper is trying to profit at the expense of unpaid photogrpahers.

The understandable result is that Flickr members get angry and start pulling their photos from the group. They then replace these with offensive photoshopped versions telling that paper exactly were to stuff its feed. Angry blog posts sprout up all over the place and, within days, you’ve alienated a community and, I imagine, the feed would have been taken down.

I don’t have an example of where that has yet happened, but its seems pretty plausible possiblity.

So if newspapers are serious about UCG, then they might have their work cut out. Unless they start getting out into local social netwoks and communities and start building up trust, they may find their UGC dream backfires.

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13 Responses to “Trust and UGC”


  1. 1 Tom January 27, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I don’t really see the problem here, surely it’s just a matter of consent? As long as putting ugc on a commercial website involves giving agreement, then whoever it is doesn’t have to worry about people getting angry at their content being taken. If there’s no procedure for giving consent then news sites shouldn’t be using content – not for legal but for moral reasons. Newspapers need to decide whether they case more about being trusted or being exciting and well-read in my opinion

  2. 2 tomfromthepost January 27, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    To expand on that, now I’m not on a mobile, I don’t mean to say trust in a newspaper isn’t important, or that it’s always an either/or choice, but I don’t think it’s the job of a news site to just absorb a source of content that’s out there already – I don’t see the point.

  3. 3 joannageary January 27, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Are being trustworthy and being exciting mutually exclusive?

    I agree with you that it comes down to consent but, for example, if you had to go around everyone in the Birmingham Flickr pool to ask whether or not they give their consent to have their photo on a newspaper website, then it’s going to take a lot of time and work. So that challenges the labour-saving, cost-saving nature of UGC.

    If you create your own group on Flickr then you can state that by posting to that pool people give their consent for their pictures to be used by the newspaper in a certain way. For the user to be happy to share it with that group then there surely must be trust, right?

    Having a newspaper Flickr group does not equal content, just as providing an email for readers to send in pictures and feedback doesn’t necessarily produce a response. There needs to be something more, some relationship.

    I guess I think newspapers are expected to develop a different model for sharing content than the one that exists for blogs. Flickr quite happily puts a “Blog This” button on pictures so that anyone can share it on their blog site. This can be used whether the blog is commercial or not. BUT, I percieve the level of mistrust between mainstream media and the public may make it difficult for a newspaper to get away with the same practice.

  4. 4 joannageary January 27, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Oops, got it there with the second comment just before I posted!

  5. 5 joannageary January 27, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    “but I don’t think it’s the job of a news site to just absorb a source of content that’s out there already”

    I would say a news site should create its own content and be the place to go to find out what other content exists out on the web. A content gateway, for want of a less wanky phrase.

    If we are not up to speed with what’s going in both in the “real world” and online on our patch, then we’re not really doing our jobs.

  6. 6 dp January 27, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    I am guessing that UGC means something like User Generated Content. It’s noteworthy that none of the last several posts on local blogs have bothered to explain the acronym, and that this is the first post where I could suss it from the context.

  7. 7 joannageary January 27, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    dp, you’re absolutely right. I haven’t made it clear. Apologies. My bad, I was being lazy.

    I’ve edited the first paragraph to make it clear, but in future I’ll make it clear what I’m referring to before I turn it into an acronym.

  8. 8 Paul Groves January 28, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Trust is a two-way…errr…street (words is my life).

    Newspapers and to a greater extent these days the media in general have always had to deal with an audience that doesn’t necessarily trust it 100% of the time. Like used car salesmen, double-glazing salesmen, lawyers and estate agents, the cliches and stereotypes have been around for a long time and won’t disappear very quicky.

    But, equally, how far can the media trust what it is reading and looking at on “independent” blogs and sites?
    Maybe it is my journalistic upbringing, but as an avid reader of all types of blogs I tend to look at them, enjoy them and get riled by them for the opinion and ideas they throw up. I rarely go to these sites looking for hard news and trusted fact as I’m not sure that is the role they have or are trying to fulfill.

    Do newspapers want to fill their pages with opinion pieces, which is what a lot of the good quality blog content out there boils down to?

    Equally, do newspaper readers – whether holding a copy of the paper or vewing online – want mainly opinion or mostly hard news?

    It is a bit like the trap 24-hour TV “news” reporting falls into – oo much reporting on comment, rather than providing facts and information.

  9. 9 dp January 28, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Thanks Jo,

    I’m thinking that it’s good to have professional writers in the blogging community because the standards of writing will gradually disperse to other participants. In which case you will well and truly become a style leader.

  10. 10 joannageary January 29, 2008 at 1:44 am

    @Paul Groves: I think readers want us to report, but I don’t assume that they’re so naive that when we link to opinion they take it as fact. Blogs are blogs, new is news, but I think it’s better to engage blogging communities than alienate them, after all we would prefer they link to us.

  11. 11 joannageary January 29, 2008 at 1:45 am

    @dp Thank you. I am more than aware I have flaws too and happy to correct. :)

  12. 12 Paul Bradshaw February 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    OK, what Flickr question? I need a link! And I can’t search your blog!

  13. 13 joannageary February 22, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Hi Paul,

    Apologies, I missed out that link and have now put it in the post. Bit worried that you can’t search my blog though – are you getting any errors with the search, or is the search bar not displaying?


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