Joining forces: an examination of user-generated content in two Dutch newspapers
The term ‘user-generated content’ or ‘UGC’ refers to content that has been produced by non-professionals – in this case by non-journalists. This content can be of all kinds: text-based, visual or audiovisual, or a combination of those three. The key point is that it is produced by ordinary people, who do not work for the organisation that receives their contributions. That is the definition which needs to be kept in mind throughout this paper. Moreover, the words ‘readers’, ‘users’, and ‘citizens’, will all refer to those people who can not be called merely ‘consumers’ anymore. In Gillmor’s (2006) words, they are the ‘former audience’.1 Within the broader, overarching term ‘user-generated content’, one can find a lot of names that refer to the type of journalism amateurs create, such as ‘grassroot’, ‘citizen’, and ‘participatory’ journalism. These names are used in previous research papers on this topic, but their exact definitions are not of major importance for this particular one, and thus will not be given here.
The amount of previous research on the integration of UGC in professional journalistic practices, is not too big, especially there where adoption of it by traditional print media is concerned. Research thusfar has mainly focused on online initiatives. Örnebring (2008), for example, has analysed what type of content citizens generally produce – which turned out to be predominantly entertaining and personal content. Stories created by users were popular culture-oriented and private – meaning they discussed personal experiences rather than public issues. Furthermore, the study has revealed that the practice of adding content was not self-organizing, but provisioned by the newspaper staff. Users did not possess much power and their involvement in the newsgathering, selection and production processes was minimal. Basically, contributions consisted of commentary upon earlier publised news items.2 A more comprehensive study of Domingo et al. (2008) has delivered quite similar conclusions. It has examined the existing opportunities for readers to get involved in the process of newsmaking, and the regulation of that involvement by professionals. By the means of a qualitative analysis, in the form of an analytic checklist, the researches have collected data about online newspapers in 8 European countries and the United States – 16 newspapers in total. With some differences between and within countries, the overall conclusion was that only the interpretation stage of production was significantly open to citizens to involve in. Citizens could only comment upon already existing stories and rate them. Gatekeeping was still left...