Tag Archives: uprisings

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