By Dave Huth
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October 16, 2005

Participatory Journalism: What's in it for the Participators?

According to his online biography at the BBC, Richard Sambrook is "Director of the BBC's World Service and Global News division, responsible for leading the BBC's overall international news strategy across radio, TV and new media."

If anyone at the BBC has a job description that puts him in charge, it's Richard Sambrook. But Sambrook says that no one at the BBC is in charge. At the BBC, the audience is in charge. Sambrook says, "We don't own the news anymore."

On July 7th, 2005, 4 hours after the bombing of the London subway, the BBC had received 20 videos, 300 still images, and 20,000 emails from which to report the events. All of it was submitted to the BBC by Londoners who were nearby when the attack happened.

Sambrook, speaking at a conference on participatory media, said that the BBC had used material from its audience for decades, but this was "on a scale and quality the BBC had never experienced before." This audience created content started to "dictate the line and tone of coverage."

The next day, July 8, the BBC evening news led with a package of video entirely shot on a London citizen's camera phone. Sambrook says the news organization, which reaches 190 million people each week, had reached a "clear tipping point" toward audience media ownership.

Guided by Sambrook and like-minded directors, the BBC is shifting into a highly participatory, interactive operational model. A March 2005 interview with Sambrook characterized the BBC's future as a shift from broadcaster and mediator to facilitator, enabler and teacher.

The approach at the BBC seems to be experimental, covering digital storytelling, requests for a wide range of user created audio, video, and writing, blogging initiatives, and highly interactive Web content.

The BBC is the leading edge of a wave The American Press Institute's The Media Center predicts will create a future newscape where in the year 2021, 50% of the news will be generated and distributed by citizens peer to peer.

The videobloggers are contributing to this wave. In 2005 we've seen an occasionally clumsy but consistent attempt to generate with handheld video cameras and home grown audio setups what in the hands of any professional can only be called "news."

Steve Garfield documents Boston City Councillor John Tobin's political activities (working cooperatively with Tobin). EvolveTV is a news information and commentary program run on what the founders claim is no investment capital. Rocketboom is the daily darling of the vlogosphere, delivering news headlines with humor, but also collecting the video reporting of "correspondents" who deliver video from author interviews to raw disaster footage. Minnesota Stories is a bright star of short, local documentary, sometimes public, sometimes personal.

As vloggers become more settled in their diverse voices, and audiences continue to record news events by being in the right place with the right cell phone, this content will inevitably make its way with increasing frequency into the programming of large media producers, either on TV, the Web, or in print.

Eventually the question will have to be asked: "What's in it for the vloggers?" Clearly this audience-created footage is valuable to the news organizations (like the BBC) who end up holding viewer attention with it. Will broadcasters start paying citizens for the right to reproduce their flickr streams? Will citizen journalists continue to send in their documents for the satisfaction of informing their neighbors?

I would like to see a Google AdSense or Amazon associate sort of arrangement worked out between media companies and participating audiences. In the way that Amazon affiliates collect pennies each time they send a buyer to purchase books featured on the affiliates' blogs, media corporations should deliver micropayments each time an editor selects an online piece of user-generated media for their evening broadcast (or Web gallery, or news magazine).

This could be through some functionality attached to the media documents themselves, or through an iTunes-style central database where news-conscious vloggers and digital photographers can deliver their work through feeds.

Comments on "Participatory Journalism: What's in it for the Participators?"


Anonymous Bre said ... (Monday, October 17, 2005 11:31:00 PM) : 

Wow, I just found this. It's great!!!


Blogger ZuDfunck said ... (Wednesday, October 19, 2005 10:54:00 AM) : 

ZuDfunck Was Here!


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