BBC BLOGS - The Editors

New resource for citizen journalists

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Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 16:10 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009

What is citizen journalism? More to the point, what makes "good" citizen journalism? And what makes a good citizen journalist? Do the same principles of "conventional" journalism apply to its citizen counterpart? Or are there different rules?

Ever since 2005, when Richard Sambrook coined the phrase "we don't own the news any more", the democratisation of news has been unstoppable, with people claiming their right to tell their story the way they want to.

citizen journalistFrom bloggers or eyewitnesses to social networkers or community website hosts, the range and the experience of citizen journalists are both vast.

Many have picked up the principles of good conventional journalism and applied them to their work. Others have not had that opportunity.

The principles of "good journalism" are well established - they affect both how a journalist gathers his story as well how he reports it.

Journalists and editors working for mainstream media across the globe understand them - even if they don't always live up to them.

But what about the principles of good citizen journalism? What would a good citizen journalist do if she came across someone receiving medical treatment in the middle of Trafalgar Square? Would she start filming them? What would she do if she were asked to stop?

Should a community website publish images of 10-year-old children - who could clearly be identified - causing criminal damage on a local housing estate?

Is it okay for a blogger to reveal that his local MP is having an affair because it's "common knowledge", or claim that a local car firm is shifting stolen cars because he's got a friend in the police, who's involved in the investigation?

All BBC journalists should know the answers to these questions - or at least the issues involved in reaching the answers. Can the same be said for citizen journalists? The answers may not be the same for both, but are they equally aware of the issues involved?

And with the right to tell their own stories come responsibilities and accountability. If a conventional journalist gets it wrong, they are accountable to both their editor and their audience. Is the citizen journalist accountable to anyone other than himself?

The BBC has been working with citizen journalists for some time - there has been a team of journalists based in the heart of the newsroom working with user-generated content since 2005. So we are well aware of the power and importance of citizen journalism.

But there's precious little authoritative advice around on good practice for citizen journalists, so to try to help find the appropriate answers to these and many other questions, we're developing a publicly available resource.

Our intention isn't to tell people what to do or what not to do. Nor will it be an attempt to tell potential contributors what we want them to send us.

But we will be setting out how we - the BBC - see some of these issues and what we think is good practice, even if others disagree.

Most importantly, though, we want to hear what you - the citizen journalist - think are the key questions and issues and what your answers are to the key questions, because that will form an important part of the resource.

Update 28 September: I talked about this issue on the World Service's Over to You programme on 26 September. (Apologies - this paragraph originally read "October" where it should have been "September".)

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Matthew Eltringham is the assistant editor of Interactivity

Fixing the Have Your Say fault (2)

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Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 16:37 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009

Since the problems with Have Your Say first arose last week, we have been doing everything we can to identify the causes and bring the service back online. Sadly, despite these efforts we are not yet in a position to say with certainty what caused the downtime. As such, we have now decided that the priority is to bring Have Your Say back online as quickly as we can, even if this means offering a slightly reduced service.

So that is what we are doing. We are publishing a new debate and you should be able to contribute to it via the usual Have Your Say index. However, though you will be able to log in as normal, we can't yet provide you with access to old debates or old comments. We are, however, continuing to investigate the issues that are preventing us from making this archive content available.

As we are effectively running a backup service, we're going to build up a full list of new debates gradually. It's possible that there will be some downtime in the future, but we are doing our best to make sure that this doesn't happen; we will provide updates on this blog if it does.

Matthew Eltringham is the assistant editor of Interactivity

Fixing the Have Your Say fault

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Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009

The BBC's Have Your Say messageboards are unfortunately not quite living up to their name at the moment, for which I'd like to apologise.

A technical fault has meant that the boards have been down since Wednesday evening and despite the best efforts of our software engineers it's likely that the problem isn't going to be fixed for a few more days.

It's doubly unfortunate that we've been hit with the problem in the middle of the outbreak of swine flu - between Monday and Wednesday this week Have Your Say had around 500,000 hits and provided our audience with a valuable insight into the experiences of people around the world and what they were thinking about the story.

We're working hard to fix the fault, as we recognise that for many Have Your Say is an extremely important platform that allows them to voice their views and opinions on the most important issues of the day. And for the BBC it is a highly valued way to listen to what matters to our audience and to find out what they are thinking about key stories, which we then feed into our journalism.

As a result, while we continue to investigate the issues, we will still offer an opportunity for you to Have Your Say on one or two of the big stories of the day. You'll be able to email in your views and experiences on those subjects and the HYS moderators will publish a selection of them. We'll be able to publish far fewer comments that we usually do and it will take longer for us to do that. But we hope that it will provide you with a least a flavour of what everyone is thinking and we will publish as many comments as we possibly can. So please bear with us and please continue to contribute your views.

We'll provide an update on the issue early next week.

UPDATE, 10:40, Wednesday, 6 May: I want to give you an update on the current problems with Have Your Say. We have been using the existing software since October 2005 and in that time it has hosted more than 6,000 debates - which has meant the publication, without fear or favour, of about six million comments across a wide range of topics and political perspectives.

But like all systems it's not infallible. The engineers are still working on the problems - it is proving very tough to isolate the cause of the outage, but we expect to have much clearer info about the situation soon, and I will obviously update you on that as soon as I can.

I'd also like to thank you for the comments about the functionality Have Your Say offers and the moderation processes we use - they have been extremely interesting to read and reflect much of what HYS users have already told us directly about the system.

Matthew Eltringham is the assistant editor of Interactivity

Reaching out

Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 09:00 UK time, Saturday, 11 October 2008

Interactivity is a two-way street, so we've started a pilot to report more of the stories you're sending us while at the same time making a bigger effort to reach out and join in conversations on the web outside the BBC's own editorial space.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFor some time now the UGC Hub has been successfully making use of remarkable eyewitness images and accounts sent in by people from all over the world, we've been feeding the views and experiences of the BBC's audience into our journalism and occasionally breaking stories - such as the revelation that foreign workers at Heathrow's Terminal 5 don't undergo a criminal records check, a story which came from an e-mail sent into the Hub.

However it has been obvious for some time that there's a lot of other ideas for stories that have been sent in to us that we haven't really been able to investigate properly. They're stories that matter to people but often aren't part of the conventional news processes and weren't getting the attention they deserved so we've decided to try out a reporter whose beat is simply all the content you've been sending in to us - our first Interactive Reporter.

Siobhan Courtney has been with us for a fortnight now and has already scored two major successes - last week she revealed the extent of the initiation rites that students at some British universities undergo. We had exclusive UGC footage sent to us that showed students at one university paraded through the streets with plastic bags over their heads lead by a man in a Nazi uniform. Her story prompted a police investigation into the incident.

This week she has spoken to some of the thousands of students who e-mailed us because they have yet to receive their educational maintenance allowances worth up to £30 a week that encourages them to carry on studying for the A-levels.

She's got lots more stories already in the pipeline - all coming out of the e-mails and texts you've sent in to us, but we're keen to hear from you if you've got a story you think we should be reporting.

At the same time we're very conscious that while we get thousands of e-mails a day sent to us here at the BBC, that is only a drop in the ocean of all the conversations that are going on the web all the time. We already use Twitter everyday, alerting people to the debates we are hosting on the BBC's HYS pages, but on Tuesday night we experimented by opening up channels on video chatrooms Qik, 12Seconds and Phreadz to join in conversations wherever they were happening rather than expect people to come to us and host them on the BBC's platforms.

We wanted to hear what people thought about the US presidential debates and get their views in video rather than in text. It was the first time we have done something like this - starting a conversation on the web outside the BBC - and we tried to approach it in a more informal and open way.

We were really excited by the response - with more than 50 videos posted in around three hours on our Qik channel discussing the VP debate last week. We even edited some of the contributions together and used them on the BBC News website. We learnt a lot about how to go about this kind of thing and are planning to do a lot more of it - but in the true spirit of interactivity, we'd like to hear what you think.

Engaging the audience

Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 08:29 UK time, Wednesday, 23 July 2008

We tried something new the other day (Monday) on Have Your Say by revisiting an old idea from the early days of the web. We invited two contributors to Have Your Say to participate in a debate about the future of the Anglican Church and respond to questions and comments from the audience.

Have Your Say guest moderator MarieMarie and Sam had differing perspectives on the ongoing row over women bishops and homosexuality in the clergy and we wanted to give them and the HYS audience an opportunity to discuss those views online.

Although the debate was reactively moderated we tried to keep it away from the fairly predictable arguments about atheism and whether or not God existed. And we also chose to run it just for a couple of hours to focus the discussion.

It was an extended webchat by any other name and you can judge for yourself here if it was a success.

Have Your Say guest moderator SamWe certainly felt that the debate benefited from the involvement of Sam and Marie, the tone was robust but not abusive and it allowed for some genuine discussion about the issues. Quite a few contributors put straightforward questions to the pair, which they were able to answer directly. They both enjoyed the experience and would have continued for longer than the two-hour slot.

It was our first experiment in trying to find new ways of engaging the audience and evolving a more dynamic and more thoughtful approach to HYS. But it won't be our last.

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