Conference news
Posted: September 13, 2008 10:18 AM
Journalists Tap Into User-generated Content

Just two weeks after their website launched, the Las Vegas Sun had to find a quick way to respond to the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino going up in flames. In this test of their new system, they relied on citizen journalists to submit photos and videos live from the scene.

Newsrooms everywhere are debating the pros and cons of citizen journalism - more broadly called "user-generated content."

Online news has always offered opportunities to interact with readers in ways not possible with the more traditional print or broadcast media formats. Almost every news organization has a feedback mechanism through comments and discussion boards.

But some are taking user-generated content a bit further.

The Las Vegas Sun searches Flickr and grabs readers' photos for use in multimedia projects, ranging from high school football games to the Vegas party scene.

"We're not going to try to build our own Flickr or our YouTube," said Tyson Evans, a designer for the Las Vegas Sun. "But we're going to pull from those sources."

Other sites have given readers a more active voice in the newsroom. The Minneapolis Star Tribune gave readers unprecedented power in the newsroom by giving their web site's most popular stories the front-page spot on the paper.

"There's such a cacophony of voices right now," said ONA keynote speaker Tina Brown, who is planning to solicit user-generated content for a news aggregating site called The Daily Beast that she is launching sometime in October. "You find new voices all the time. Also, you find new experts all the time."

Riding the wave of YouTube and Flickr popularity; sites like the CNN's iReport and allow readers to upload breaking news through photographs and videos.

Starting a conversation with the audience, comments and user interaction can lead to interview sources and story ideas as well. To make this happen, a two-way relationship can be fostered through discussion groups, interactive blogs and responses to readers' comments.

Another option is to create an outlet solely for user generated content like and But this also creates problems with credibility, accuracy and verifiability.

Leonard Brody, chief officer and co-founder of NowPublic, said there is no editorial oversight on the site's content and "other than illegalities, there is no cutting room floor."

-Morgan Phelps

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The 2008 Online News Association Conference is the premier conference for those who work in, or have an interest in, online media and news.

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