The Ever-Tempting User Generated Headache

At a radio station, the responsibility for factual accuracy normally rides with reporters and editors. As a web producer, I edit radio reports to fit print standards, add additional reporting and context, and package things for the website.

When breaking news necessitates a web-first approach, I become a point person for a developing story. The station turns to the web team to aggregate details from social media and supplement the wire copy. It is my judgment, and that of my fellow producers, that dictates what facts are reported, and it’s a responsibility I take seriously.

The user-generated content one finds on social media is a tremendous temptation for news organizations in breaking situations. There’s always somebody at the scene, producing raw reports and photos as a news event unf
olds. Even better, the content is easy to find.

And, in my experience, it’s wrong more often than not.

Having dealt with that frustration, I read this Poynter interview of the Associated Press’ UGC Editor Fergus Bell with interest. Bell’s job is to sift the wheat from the chaff every day, from fantastic images of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction to live reports from Gaza.

The article explains the international system of bureaus that allows AP to track down original sources and check their facts before publishing.

But how many organizations can match that? A journalist can go her entire career without having the kind of resources at Bell’s disposal.

That’s why I must caution my fellow IJ students to take note of the way AP process UGC as a matter of professional interest, but to always err on the side of not using UGC, no matter what Bell says.

We are not AP. We often don’t have the manpower to check on these things. And we can’t be wrong.

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