The head of the newly integrated BBC News operation, Peter Horrocks, offers an insight into his take on citizen journalism in a speech he gave at the the University of Leeds’ Institute of Communications Studies.
Horrocks has published the text of the speech on the BBC Editors blog.
He raises some key questions about the relationship between mainstream news organisations, such as the BBC, and user-generated content. He asks how responsive should editors be to comments from the public, especially since less than 1% of the readers of the BBC News website leave a comment.
This is a valid concern but the low levels of active participation are unsurprising. Just look at Wikipedia and consider how only a small percentage of users contribute to the site.
Jakob Nielsen calls this the 90-9-1 rule of user participation, where 90% of users are lurkers, 9% of users contribute from time to time and only 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions.
The unknown is whether this matters. Can a small number of active contributors create a better news experience for the mass of readers? Or can these sorts of forums became a dialogue of the deaf?
More importantly though, is the role that public participation can play in setting the new agenda. This goes beyond asking the public for their images and video of a news event. As Horrocks points, this has become routine:
There is little doubt of the enormous value of audience-provided information and media in enhancing the coverage of news events. From the earliest days of audience-based journalism we have been astonished at the range of the BBC News website’s ability to garner news form the most obscure corners of the globe.
The next stage is to work with the audience on identifying and developing stories. This has already happened at the BBC over stories about contaminated fuel and the condition of army barracks.
This is where the real value of public participation in journalism lies. By working with the public, journalists can only but improve their work.