As I continue my course work as one of ten selected participants in RNTC‘s Online Journalism course, today, I share with you three examples of journalistic use of User Generated Content UGC and let you know why they appeal to me. I will then round off with what I will do to promote UGC myself. Here goes:
ProPublica: This US based news outfit describes itself as a nonprofit, independent newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. But the newsroom goes even further; it engages the public in its journalism work. And it does it effectively.
ProPublica, does not just ask members of its audience to send stories. It spells out, in clear writing, how they can help investigate specific stories. Under its website’s ‘get involved’ section, the audience are encouraged to help investigate specific topics like the affordable care act where readers are guided on how to share their obamacare stories.
This strategy with User Generated Content UGC, for me, makes ProPublica a good example of a news organization inviting citizens to co-produce the news and contribute to news organizations’ websites. You can call it crowdsourcing.
News24: According to its about page: “News24 is Southern Africa and Africa’s premier online news resource, with round-the-clock coverage to bring you local and international news as it happens, when it happens.”
It has a user generated section called MyNews24 where registered users can upload their stories. With more than eight million unique visitors, News24 is the 9th most visited website in South Africa, according to Alexa. And that makes it the most trafficked news website there.
The good thing about News24 lies in its effort to tap into the knowledge base of its huge audience. Interestingly, you will find current submissions from its readers sharing their perspectives of what matter to them. I love this engagement. It has value.
I also like its disclaimer: “All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24’s community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.”
Vanguard Newspaper: Established in 1984, this newspaper (I grew up reading) runs an online portal that ranks as the most visited news website in Nigeria. It commands over one million likes on facebook and more than 350,000 followers on Twitter.
I like its concept of user generated content through what it calls Vanguard Citizen report with focus on breaking news. The citizen journalism initiative calls on readers to report news as it breaks near them. Vanguard provides an sms mobile number, email address and a Twitter hashtag #citizenvanguard. With a huge online following, the possibilities are endless.
The question you might want to ask: How is the response from readers? Answer: The response from readers has been low, with the bulk of responses coming in 2011. As I write, the only citizen report for 2014 was in February and it’s not even a breaking news, which is the focus of the initiative.
Why again? This brings me to my closing notes.
Promoting User Generated Content
If I want to promote UGC and make it succeed on my medium, I would avoid some of the oversights from the last example above.
Be visible: When I looked at the homepage of the Vanguard Newspaper, it was difficult to locate the link to its citizen report initiative. It was buried somewhere in the middle of the homepage. I feel if you give priority to UGC, then you should make it easy for readers to find and see where they can engage on your website. ProPublica and News24 did well to make their UGC initiatives visible on the menu bar section and other parts of their homepages.
Effective call to action: Tell your readers what to do and remind them as often as possible. Again, as I write this blog post, the last hashtag- #citizenvanguard requesting readers to send stories that are happening, came in 2012. Since then, no response from readers and no reminder from publisher. I only find on the website, a message dated March saying Citizen report is back. But failed to see any follow up on Twitter where nearly 360,000 are followers.
Vanguard does a good job at tweeting consistently, except that tweets on #citizenvanguard remain scarce.
So it boils down again to the question: Do you really want to do UGC? If you do, then let your message/campaign ring out where your readers will hear.