Where Does that Leave
By Maria Chercoles
FIU Student Journalist
With websites like Youtube.com allowing anyone with a camera and an internet connection to report news, even long-established networks like CNN are being affected by the shift in the media: the user is now in control.
So how are media sites responding to the trend? This was the subject of this year’s E&P Mediaweek Interactive Media Conference first discussion.
Guest speakers included David Payne, senior vice president and general manager of CNN.com; Ezra Cooperstein, director of development and production at Currenttv.com; Matt Melucci from Beliefnet.com and Al an Citron, general manager from TMZ.com.
According to Payne, CNN.com responded very quickly to the user-generated trend. Its website ireport.com allows users to post any video which can then make it to the network. Such was the case of the notorious Virginia Tech shooting video recorded from a cell phone, he explained.
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Currenttv.com, only a couple of years old, offers a revolutionary approach to newsgathering: people from across the globe produce and post news stories online. For example, the site showed a series of stories shot by a reporter from Afghanistan. Viewers rate each video, and based on this, the videos might make it to the network. According to Cooperstein, one third of the network content is user-generated.
Another example of the possibilities that user-generated media allows is TMZ.com, a website allowing users who spot celebrities on the street to post their videos online. According to Citron, although TMZ.com is localized in Los Angeles and New York, where most celebrities live, it receives comments from across the nation. It also allows fluent conversations between viewers who post their comments on each story.
According to Melucci, the sense of community is one of the advantages of Beliefnet.com. Users create a community and discuss different faith topics, no matter what their beliefs are, and directs users to tools and sources.
So if basically anyone can put a video on the Internet, how do these websites control their content?
All speakers agreed that some kind of “human eye” is needed to check videos for graphic or obscene content. According to Citron, TMZ.com does check for obscenities, but other than that, it is an user-generated network.
Payne gave an honest answer: we are going to discover how it works as it happens. But ideally, he said, the network should get out of the way and allow conversation to flow. Too much control would give the users the idea that they are not involved enough.
So if anyone can produce a news clip, where does professional journalism stand today?
According to Cooperstein, user-generated content provides an alternative to the short, sometimes superficial, newscasts found on news networks by allowing a personal perspective. It offers real people showing things that affect them. However, those with a journalism background have the advantage of the knowledge of the trade. They can produce in-depth stories and show a fair side to every issue they cover. At the end, he said, viewers will be able to recognize good and bad stories.
For Melucci user-generated content provides something else: the sense of community not found in traditional media channels. Users give their opinion and rate postings. This does not replace traditional news, but complement it.
So yes, according to the speakers, there is still hope for young journalism students. It’s a new way to report and deliver the news, and as journalist, are just going through an adjustment period. So the best advice would be to bring down the wall between print and broadcast journalism and start learning both.
As Melucci put it, those trying to attach too many ideas of what journalism used to be will miss what’s going on.