UGC should not be ostracized

A must-read column from Steve Outing's monthly offering on Editor & Publisher: An Important Lesson About Grassroots Media

The really important paragraphs:

Take a look at some news organizations that are soliciting and trying to attract citizen content. Most of the time it's put in a separate website or webpage, off to the side and separated from the professionally produced content. That strategy alone, in my opinion, dooms the citizen content to obscurity. Some people will find it, but my bet is that it will never get significant traffic.

For example, it's common after a natural disaster for a news website to request that eyewitnesses share photos or blog about their experiences. Typically that content is aggregated in a page with all the other amateur submissions. Meanwhile, there's another, separate page for photos of the disaster taken by professional photojournalists. Flipping through the amateur photos is arduous to most of us; you have to scan a lot of crap to find the few great images.

That's the wrong approach, in my view. The best way to leverage those eyewitness photos is to have editors identify the best ones, then add those to a presentation of the best images of the disaster, period -- whether they're from the pros or the eyewitnesses.

That's really what this whole social/grassroots/citizen thing is all about, y'know! News organizations need to stop thinking of themselves as islands, and reach out and grab all the other relevant content that's being published around them. The news website that covers the local wildfires exclusively with staff content is hopelessly lost in the web 2.0 environment. The news site that gathers, identifies and filters all the wildfire coverage from local bloggers and other sources -- and adds that in with its own staff coverage -- understands where it should be going.

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