#newsrw: Users are an essential source of information, agree UGC panellists

Journalists must make use of their reader’s knowledge – that’s the message from the news:rewired debate on user-generated content today. But according to our panel, the niche media are much more open to involving their readers than mainstream journalists.

Lulu Phongmany, business development and marketing manager for iVillage (NBC) started the debate by stressing how important it is for publishers to create a sense of product ownership for readers and that this was key to UGC today.

Giving them a choice in how to participate in the conversation will produce a more engaged audience.

During questions from the audience about awarding titles to contributors, she answered that status is important and that if the site treats their readers with the same respect as writers, their content quality is often improved. This also involves their policy of using community managers, which are on an equal footing with editors when it comes to curating online content. “It is about trying to make it so online you can’t tell the difference,” she added.

Chris Taggart, developer of OpenlyLocal, which collects local government data, aiming to make it more easily accessible, agreed that readers are a rich source of information.

Journalists don’t know much about anything (but know a bit about lots of things) and readers are a great source of stories. Many good stories are in plain sight to a small number of people. Your readers know much more than you do!

But he said mainstream media are far from making the most of such sources.

There are few examples of mainstream media doing this (UGC). For them reader/viewer contributions are mostly vacuous comments that’s treated as free content.

Adding to this, the final speaker, Paul Bradshaw, the director of the MA Journalism course at Birmingham City University, and founder of the Online Journalism Blog and Help Me Investigate, said those journalists who do use UGC must remain a part of the process. The journalist must lead the way for users to help, not run.

It isn’t about going on your site and saying please help us, tell us your experience or paying people. Where it seems to work is where journalists lead by examples, sharing yourself and contributing yourself. That’s when people will respond.

As in many areas of online journalism, he added the relationship between journalists and their users does not follow traditional media models.

Its not about any type of pyramid or circles in circles, its about a lot of close-knit communities and the overlaps and connections between those. This is where the journalist role as connector is really useful in a network age. You are those overlaps (…) you can join the dots.

Hear Paul Bradshaw talk more about why some journalists fear UGC here…

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