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Pete Clifton, who has the unwieldy title of head of editorial development for multimedia journalism explained how UGC fit into the BBC’s newsgathering:
It’s gathering in insights that the audience have that we can make sense of and then making it part of our newsgathering process.
This approach limits the potential of UGC. The ability of the public to participate offers an opportunity for a new relationship with audiences – one in which journalists work with audiences and engage them in the various stages of the journalistic process.
This goes beyond viewing UGC as a source of news content, which needs to be controlled by professional journalists.
The BBC’s approach fits in with how other news outlets view content from the public, with journalists retaining a traditional gate-keeping role. At the BBC, the content is heavily moderated to verify its authenticity, as Clifton explained:
It’s gone through all the filters that our journalism would have gone through. It’s quite labour intensive. We’ve another arm of our newsgathering operation – it can ultimately add to the richness of what we do, but we shouldn’t take it lightly.
Again, this is also the view shared by other UK news publications with moderation and/or registration the norm as editors’ concerns over reputation, trust, and legal liabilities persist.
This approach frames UGC as a way of providing technical, editorial, and managerial processes that allow contributions from the public to be elicited, processed, and published by professional journalists.
The bottom line is that, overall, online newspapers are eager to open interpretation to the audience, as this is coherent with their definition of the audience as audience. Access, distribution and even processing are open to a lesser extent, but selection is completely closed to participation, as this is the core of the journalistic profession.
As an aside, given that the BBC has integrated its TV, radio and online operations into a multimedia newsroom, should Clifton’s title lose the “multimedia” tag?