Monday, November 15, 2010

CNN's iReport and User-Generated Content

The evolution of online media has dramatically changed the ways in which traditional news outlets produce and transmit information. Although advancements in technology have allowed for more creative and innovative ways to communicate, some developments have threatened the way conventional journalism is practiced. This perceived threat can be viewed as the harmful, systematic downfall of the profession or as its consequent progression brought on by changing times and expanded technology. Regardless of one's stance in this debate, it is inarguable that media content has shifted due to the new mediums made available by advancements in technology.

The use of user-generated content (UGC) has developed as a direct result of technology. However, much of this can also be directly related back to the new organizations themselves through the ongoing process of digitizing print newspapers and the invention of the 24-hour news cycle. The tremendous ease and immediacy in which people have grown accustomed to receiving their news has encouraged this trend. Check out blogger Darren Rowse's "User Generated Content and the Threat to Journalism" for more insight.

CNN is one of many traditional news outlets that have fully embraced the use of UGC. CNN has consistently focused on its newsgathering potential from its international audience and have often solicited videos, pictures and comments from its users during breaking events such as the Virginia Tech shooting and the California wildfires. These initiatives were originally grouped collectively within CNN under the title iReport. However, at its peak, CNN was receiving as many as 10,000 videos each month and the task of moderating and verifying each item became too daunting for the news outlet. In 2008, the organization launched iReport as its own separate entity where the quality and the content of the contributions could be better managed by the participating community. Currently, iReport is a stand alone UGC platform but CNN still manages the site and its unedited content. Therefore the organization still issues a caveat for its news-seeking audience: "iReport is the way people like you report the news. The stories in this section are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. Only ones marked 'CNN iReport' have been better by CNN."

But this calls into question the big issue with citizen journalism which is its trustworthiness and its potential weakening of conventional journalism. For each claim that the public feels disconnected with mainstream news outlets and that UGC supplements that problem, many critics argue that the opposite is true. For example, iReport has been successful for CNN but the organization still does not pass its content off as its own in any professional manner. In fact, the outlet is very prone to protect itself against such claims. In his Oxford University dissertation, Nic Newman says, " still provides CNN with a regular stream of user-generated content for its main TV output, but only those that have been vetted and verified will be used on air. This brand separation is considered essential to protect CNN's reputation for trust and accuracy and is taken very seriously."

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