Tag Archives: egypt

Are people putting their lives at risk for ugc and journalism and is the media industry encouraging it ? A look at Japan and the Middle East

As previous posts on this website have shown a huge amount of the news coverage coming out of conflict and disaster zones such as Libya, Egypt, and more recently Japan, is user generated. That is to say that civilians and citizens are using their cameras to document what’s happening all over the world from being shot at by Gaddafi forces, to filming their houses crumbling around them.

The quality is not always great but the undisputed power it yields, is that it’s captured as the action is happening. This is something journalists cannot always achieve due to time, safety constraints, and deadlines.

Watching the footage of the earthquake in Japan and the violence in Libya got me thinking about how people around the world might actually be putting their lives at risk in order to, paradoxically, record moments of life. Recent eyewitness footage demonstrates this desire and need to record what’s happening as it’s happening. The first thing many people did when the earthquake struck was to grab their cameras and press record, while in Libya many people are risking their lives to film during open gunfire.

Videos coming out of these troubled areas are showing a fascinating yet potentially deadly trend. We have already seen the death of one ‘citizen journalist’ in Libya being called a ‘citizen journalist martyr’. People are going against what has been perceived for generations as a basic human instinct. The drive to survive. Many people these days seem to outright put their lives at risk in order to capture something on film. But why is this happening and should it be happening?

I talked to ITN’s former Chief Executive Stewart Purvis to see what he thought about this growing trend, and whether broadcasters are justified in using UGC footage in the first place.

You can see the interview here, or check out the main information below.

Stewart started by saying that he did think broadcasters are justified in using the footage, as these people are capturing world events. The issue however, is when there is a risk of broadcasters indirectly encouraging people to film these kinds of dangerous events. He explained that this ‘indirect encouragement’ could be a greater risk with UGC because these people have no official connection to the networks.

Another risk is that ‘citizen journalists’ don’t have any formal training in what to do while filming under these circumstances. Many people seem to believe that if they have a camera filming they will be immune from danger, when in actual fact it could make them more of a target.

According to Stewart the events in Libya and Japan are very distinct. This is because in Japan there was amateur footage of the quake, but it was nothing compared to the incredible film shot by state media like NHK. In Libya however, due to the lack of state media coverage of what’s going on, and Gaddafi’s government restrictions on western media, a vacuum has been created. This means that everyday citizens have taken covering events into their own hands, to make sure the world is aware of what the real situation not being portrayed on state television. The government there are able to control to a certain extent what foreign media gets to see, but not how people use their mobile phones and the telecoms systems to then distribute that material.

Links:
Young Journalist Killed in Iraq

Libyan Citizen Journalist Killed – Mohammad Nabbous

British Journalist Killed in Iraq

By Kirsty Malcolm @kirstymalcolm

PREVIEW: Al Jazeera English’s new UGC news show: The Stream

Al Jazeera is a news channel on the up. Riding high after the success of its Middle east coverage over the last couple of months, this May it is launching an all new show with user generated content at its heart.

“The Stream”, which has been in development since last year, will be a new daily talk show on Al Jazeera English with a fully intergrated web community. In fact, ‘the web community is arguably more important in getting the right feedback, stories and editorial angle of the show’

Generated By Users spoke to Ahmed Shihab-Eldin producer and co-presenter of “The Stream”. The whole concept behind he programme is to seek out untold stories, get ground level angles on big news events and to link into often overlooked discussion points or conversations online. That means that Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen, popular as they are online won’t be featuring, but instead “The Stream” will stay true to Al Jazeera’s mission by giving a voice to the voiceless.

To create the narrative of the show which is unscripted and without autocue, social media curation is vital and they make use of a tool called Storify to create the conversation that fuels the show. Storify allows you to take multiple feed from social networks and compile them into one narrative.

As the show is built on user generated content and is screened live trust obviously becomes an issue. Al Jazeera already have a portal roughly similar to CNN’s iReport so they are already attuned to issues of UGC and trust. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin says that the number of people engaged online mean that facts are checked by crowdsourcing, but admittedly on face value we have to be wary of UGC.

News organisations no longer have exclusivity over our news and what we see, stories are breaking on twitter and online tools mean that everyone can be a part of telling the story as is the case with live blogs. But will there be more intergration of UGC and News?

Viewers and consumers of news are more willing to except lesser quality for immediacy and traditionally unreported angles, but does it risk making traditional reporting obsolete?

Al Jazeera English has seen a massive surge in popularity in recent months (increase of web traffic by 2500%), especially in the United States, due to its non-stop comprehensive coverage of the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. They hope “The Stream” can help to advance the cause of social media as a legitimate form of publishing information.

We’ll have to wait and see if “The Stream” succeeds where others (CNN we’re looking at you) have failed. But if anyone can make it work it’s a news organisation on the up.

Join “The Stream” on Twitter or http://www.ajestream.com/

Reporting Revolutions: Is video UGC killing off traditional reporters and cameraman?

Since the ousting of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January and onwards our TV screens have been filled with images of the Arab uprisings, from Egypt to Jordan to Bahrain to Libya and increasingly to Yemen. But what has really struck a chord when looking at the reports is the way that UGC has been used or hasn’t been used.

This video on youtube was used in a channel 4 news broadcast ( but CNN have loaded this version onto youtube). It shows an Egyptian police van running over civilians. This is the power of UGC. In a world where everyone has a mobile phone, every dark deed can be captured whatever the restrictions on journalists, and the light can be shone on truths that would have otherwise been missed.

UGC also presents a problem for the reporters on the ground, who are trying to navigate their way through the protests and find stories which bring the issue alive. In the ‘age of information’ editors back in London, New York, Doha or wherever can see everything from all kinds of sources before the reporter can. Editors can direct reporters to include shots, or UGC or information not gathered on the ground themselves. This prescriptive top down reporting negates the role traditional of a reporter and instead makes them more of a curator or compiler of information. Jon Snow has written about this very issue this week in PORT magazine.

“Where once I was one pair of eyes witnessing a story and sending my account back to London, I am now charged with retrieving the work of many pairs of eyes and putting together an apparently holistic account of an event. We call this “sausage machine telly”. In the competitive multiplatform age in which we live, this age will not last long. Why not? Because it is neither distinctive, nor is it particularly interesting.
A big problem with sausage machine telly is that it spawns sausage machine reporters. In too many instances, reporters are no longer easily distinguished from one another. The sausage system is not
breeding or maturing new talent to take over the airwaves when we are gone.”

This ‘sausage machine telly’ is exemplified here in an ITN report from Libya. Except it isn’t…as it explains foreign journalists are banned from trouble spots (unlike Eygpt) and mobile phone networks and the Internet have been cut so the report relies solely on UGC and a voiceover to tell the story.

I’m not saying that UGC isn’t both compelling and useful but we must be careful how we use it. The role of a reporter is an important one, they are trained to find stories on the ground at short notice and to bring a human element to the news. UGC can be very useful in places such as Libya because of the restrictions placed on journalists. UGC can provide the pictures from even the most closed off parts of the world…the problem is how we verify it and interpret the images.

Here is a report from Sky’s Alex Crawford RTS Journalist of the year who got into Zawiyah in Libya and filmed this report.

It is all the more powerful for a trained reporter putting the story together and automatically trustworthy for it and exactly the sort of journalism that Jon Snow is praising in this account of his work in Haiti.

“We were so cut off from one another on the ground that we could not share pictures. Everything I transmitted we researched, retrieved, shot, edited, and beamed back to London ourselves. Only the local satellite dishes worked, dependent on their own generators and fuel – the satellite paths to the outside world were almost the only elements the earthquake had not reached. News desks knew instantly the massive pressure we were under and left us alone. After we’d sent our reports they would bask in their novelty, pain and exclusivity.”

Traditional journalists and cameramen are still very important as you can see with the difference between ITN’s and Sky’s reports. However UGC is a fantastic addition to a reporters toolbox, but one that must be used in addition to solid reporting not in place of it.

James Glynn

Algeria and the flow of words

On the 1st February, we wrote on here about revolutions and the use of Twitter, Facebook and other sites that allow User Generated Content. New information has come to light today identifying Algeria as the latest Middle Eastern country to have had its social networking sites closed down.

According to Mashable (an extremely useful website for journalists who are techy) as well as the Telegraph, the Algerian Government has actually been shutting down individual Facebook sites and closing internet servers and providers.

It’s laughable. I mean, you only have to look at Twitter to see that the message from Mashable has already been retweeted 774 times since the article was written 33 minutes ago and has been liked by 179 people on facebook. As I am sat following the Twitter feeds as I write this, 23 new retweets have emerged.

In Egypt, before President Mubarak was forced to stand down, the Government successfully managed to close down 88% of all Egyptian internet servers. But they’re not the only ones. China, Iran, Thailand and Tunisia have also done the same thing in times of unrest within their respective countries.

This raw footage shows the intensity of the Algerian protests and is first hand user-generated content. Not all broadcasters can afford journalists in every country at every time and therefore independently contributed content for the internet is extremely valuable. The world should be entitled to see what they want to see.

It seems to me as though try as you may to stop people getting on UGC sites and social networking sites, word and cause is strong and will spread. You cannot stop it. Algeria, amongst other nations attempting to stop the flow of independently generated content, is fighting a losing battle.
By Linzi Kinghorn

Reporting Revolutions: Are we too reliant on Twitter, Facebook and other UGC?

Photo: Maggie Osama via Flickr - Creative Commons License

Egypt has been dominating the headlines and trending on twitter for the last week. The latest in the series of so called ‘twitter revolutions’ that have brought change from Moldova to Iran to Tunisia and is now in the land of the Pharoahs.

But are we overestimating the impact of Twitter and Facebook? Also as journalists as we too reliant on tweets coming through from hard to reach places?

Firstly, Twitter and Facebook don’t bring about or even inspire revolutions, they aren’t out there on the streets egging on protestors. Social Media helps people to shout a little louder and it’s interesting to see that governments are pretty keen to shut them down or block them off (Iran tried and Eygpt plain severed the Internet). But I’m pretty sure that the tens of people that have self-immolated, and the hundreds of thousands that have protested across North Africa these last weeks didn’t do it for the tweets. But as a genuine protest against their autocratic governments based on long term greviances, excacerbated by rising food prices and unemployment.

While Twitter is very useful for real time updates from rapidly emerging situations – how much can we trust what information is put out there?

During the Iranian revolutions when foreign journalists weren’t allowed to enter the country Twitter became one of the key sources of information for foreign news services. But who are we to trust? In his latest book ‘The Net Delusion’ Evgeny Morozov says that twitter and facebook are actually not the ‘freer’ of people but can instead be used to covertly spread disinformation and tighten government control.

So if governments are sometimes using Twitter to further their own aims and severing or shutting down the internet during protests who exactly is getting this information onto the Internet? Blogs, twitter, facebook and youtube are all ablaze with new updates and startling videos.

Yet western journalists who couldn’t reach or didn’t bother to reach people on the ground in Iran, just scrolled down the English tweets searching for #mubarak #egypt or #iranelection and getting whatever info there was. It just seems like lazy journalism.

I accept that Twitter and Facebook are useful for mobilising the diaspora of a nation that is under going rapid political change as well as rasing the international profile of their movement. It just doesn’t seem like it is the best way to report on these events after all wouldn’t most people involved be tweeting in Farsi or Arabic?

**Since posting it turns out that google have introduced a voice-to-twitter service to help Egyptians to continue tweets during the protests.