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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Where UGC fits in the BBC newsroom

Peter Horrocks, head of BBC newsroom, posts a speech he made at the University of Leeds' Institute of Communication Studies about where user generated content fits in at the BBC. The BBC is restructuring its newsroom with the UGC team sitting alongside the news teams supplying content for broadcast and web outlets - there's more detail in the post.

Peter covers a lot of issues including how much weight to give to user comments, how many resources to commit to managing them, not letting the 1% of the audience who comment drive the news agenda, how to find the wheat within the chaff that will turn into compelling stories and how to apply journalistic principles to the process.

"We cannot just take the views that we receive via e-mails and texts and let them dictate our agenda. Nor should they give us a slant around which we should orient our take on a story. At their best they are an invaluable information resource and an important corrective to group-think. They very often ask direct or apparently na├»ve questions that get to the heart of the subject – they can be gold dust for interviewers for instance.

"But we need to be very clear about how many contributions we get, their statistical significance and the weight we should attach to them. The BBC gets an average of 10,000 e-mails or posts in a day to its Have Your Say site. That can soar on big news days. That sounds an enormous number. But up to 5 million people can come to the BBC News website on a single day. That means that fewer than 1% of our users, even on the most active days, are choosing to say something to us. What organisation – a political party, a business, a trades union – would allow its stance to be totally driven by such a small minority?

"Of course a small proportion could be indicative of a wider population, but we can’t be sure. Rather than playing a numbers game to drive our agenda I instead encourage our teams to look for thoughtful or surprising views and opinions. In other words we still need to be journalistic with this material, as we would with any other source."

It's a considered piece and I recommend reading it. The comments add a lot too.