Sadly, Channel Five still seem to be ghettoising user content by putting it in a "specific portion" of the news programme.
"I'm hoping people will get to know Five News as the place that really does listen to you about your story and cares enough to give you a credit, pay you and do something about it," says [senior programme controller Chris] Shaw, who insists that it is about "much more" than simply a call for story tips and mobile phone clips. The idea of paying contributors has already been trialled with some success by the mobile network 3, which rewards contributors to its SeeMeTV service every time their clip is downloaded.
"[...] But it will face stiff competition, and the issue was hotly debated at the News Xchange conference in Istanbul last week.
"Pete Clifton, head of BBC News Interactive, said the corporation - which has for some time allowed viewers to send material via its "yourpics" facility - does not pay contributors, but allows them to retain copyright. In contrast ITN deputy editor Jonathan Munro said ITV has and does pay for footage - including "tens of thousands of pounds" for footage of the arrest of some people who attempted a copycat London bombing. "We pay because it's a commercial commodity, a competitive market and has commercial value - and we'd try to recoup that value by selling the footage on to our clients."
"Authenticity is another potential banana skin [...] Safety issues are another consideration with viewer-submitted content. Fran Unsworth, head of newsgathering at the BBC, admitted to being concerned by much of the footage that had been sent in from last year's gas explosion at Buncefield.
"A lot of teenagers were coming to our link on the ground and they provided the best pictures of the day by getting far closer than the BBC's own camera crews would go," she said. "When we said we can't use this because it's too wobbly, they said 'I'll go out and get some more'." She said that as employers, the BBC could be exposed to legal action if they could be shown to have encouraged members of the public to put themselves in danger.
"But even more important than the practicalities, says Shaw, is a shift of mindset. Like many others, he believes that news organisations will have to come down from their lofty perch."
Equally interesting are similar moves in the world of TV:
"Celia Taylor, the controller of Trouble, a digital channel aimed at 16-24 year olds, was ahead of the curve in launching Homegrown in May this year and last week the first TV programme culled from its thousands of clips was aired. Now ITV is looking at launching its own UGC site and has commissioned Endemol to make a show derived from viewer-submitted content, Sky has unveiled plans to launch a UK version of Al Gore's Current TV and next year the BBC will embark on a wholesale revamp of its website for the broadband age.
"I wanted it to become an original place for people to play and I'm pleased to say that's happened," says Taylor, relieved that most contributions appear to have been
made specifically for the service rather than merely re-posted from elsewhere.
"What I didn't want was lots of people lighting farts and falling over," she adds. The clips that have made it to the channel include soaps made in people's living rooms, skits and comedy sketches. "It's really funny, incredibly creative and the quality is outstanding," insists Taylor. On one level, sites like Homegrown can act as a massive talent filter, she suggests. Meanwhile, Trouble is also looking at ways of linking the website with the TV channel - Homegrown users were asked to remix a video for an Oasis track that will feature on their new DVD, for example, while the hosts of X-Factor style dance show Bump 'n' Grind encouraged viewers to compete via the website and showed the best clips on air."
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