The Future of Journalism Conference in Cardiff has provided a fascinating insight into the attitude of senior editors towards news content generated by internet users. In short they are nervous, sceptical and not a little resistant. Indeed many see user content as a distraction from the “real job” of journalism, according to research by the University of Central Lancashire.
The problem is that these journalists are falling between two stools. On the one hand they see themselves as fearless protectors of freedom of expression and the public interest, but on the other they don’t like the idea of any old Jonnie playing the role of amateur reporter.
Few would deny that journalism is a profession and that all serious media must have editorial standards in order to have credibility.
But you cannot put the social media genie back in the bottle. Editors are going to have to get used to the idea that the “real job” of journalism is changing and they cannot restrict web user content to safe areas such as traffic reports, community news and local sports news.
Not for the first time, the BBC is setting an example with its UGC hub of 23 journalists who sort through up to 20,000 emails a day, monitor Twitter and other sites and engage with online conversations in the search for stories.
This positive, proactive approach is much more in keeping with the way the media is changing. This is not a filtering process, sorting the wheat from the chaff, but a proper engagement with social media. The BBC’s professionalism and editorial standing is enhanced rather than threatened through this process. And this is now an essential part of the “real job” of journalism in this new era.