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Technology Boosts Power of Citizen Journalism

by Paul Kaminski~ April 26, 2006


In the minutes and hours after the London subway bombings in July 2005, the BBC television news department received 20,000 e-mails containing thousands of images, and some 3,000 text messages from those on the scene.

This is the kind of power that today's audience - known as citizen journalists - now have according to panelists at the Tuesday morning RTNDA@NAB Super Session titled "Citizen Journalism: Embracing the New Power of Your Audience."

Merrill Brown of the News 21 project and MMB Media, moderated the session and shared the stage with panelist Adrian Van Klaveren, controller of production and deputy director of news for BBC News, who recounted those minutes and hours after the bombings in London. Van Klaveren suggesting that the BBC's decision to embrace and solicit viewer-created content helped the network provide breaking news more quickly.

"We've been able to get more material, which has led to a rethinking of how our newsroom works," he said. The BBC has been a leader in integrating viewer content into its Web site and programming.

Yahoo! News General Manager Neil Budde recounted similar experiences with the New York City transit strike in December 2005, where people uploaded their cell phone photos to Yahoo!'s Flickr photo-sharing Web site. Budde explained Yahoo! News' approach to covering local news: "In 82 metro areas, Yahoo! has linked to RSS feeds from local media Web sites. So when a reader clicks on the link at Yahoo!, it drives traffic back to the station Web site." The company plans to develop new relationships with local broadcasters and publishers.


To address concerns of authenticity of submissions, Budde said Yahoo! News will eventually move to a "mix of some unfiltered content and some vetted content, to protect the credibility of Yahoo! News as a news source."

Blogger Robert Cox of, and president of the Media Bloggers Association, gave a personal example of how the "blogosphere" worked, citing his recent lawsuit involving the New York Times, and how other bloggers around the country, other traditional news sources and talk radio picked up on the dispute. Cox said there are some two dozen suits against bloggers around the country, which he described as "slap suits, designed to squelch criticism of politicians and media."

The fledgling Current TV cable channel uses 30 percent of viewer-created content in its program mix. Current TV's supervising producer of vanguard journalism, Laura Ling, said the network "provides an opportunity for our viewers to express themselves. Every subject has a release [for copyright and clearance] or it doesn't get on the air. But the process is not fool-proof," she said. "And we've been called out by our audience when they find errors, and those corrections become part of the piece [in question]."

When questioned whether the trend would bring a decrease in staffs and freelancers, Van Klaveren suggested the opposite might be true in some cases. "We'll still need the journalists to verify what we receive."

© 2006 NAB