Much of the well-informed and articulate discussion around news, as well as criticism or praise for stories, has moved to social media and online forums. Those communities offer vibrant conversation and, importantly, are self-policed by participants to keep on the fringes those who would abuse the privilege of commenting.
As newspaper publishers enter a new era, Kantar Media’s Global TGI believes newspapers have a key role to play in this changing landscape, but recognises that business models need to change to incorporate direct audience interaction. Recent research by the company provides publishers with insight to inform their strategies by showing the different social media habits of people around the world. In terms of engaging with user generated content (UGC), the number of internet users reading articles or comment varies significantly by country, with Latin America featuring strongly. 47% of internet users in Brazil and 44% in Argentina read UGC on newspaper websites, compared to only 35% in GB and 26% in Germany. Not all countries have high levels of user interaction however. Latin American countries again show the highest rates of activity in submitting articles or comment on the websites of newspaper publishers, with 27% in Brazil and 26% in Argentina. This drops to only 17% in Germany and 12% in GB.
Publish and be damned? The Duke of Wellington’s famous phrase could be used to describe the challenges for regulators dealing with the complex legal issues surrounding open journalism. In the age of Internet and the smart phone, we are ALL potentially journalists capable of generating copy, sound and images. From the rise of blogs which allowed private individuals to publish content on their own platform, to the opening of comments sections at the end of newspaper articles, to the inclusion of user generated films in news reports, the “professional” media have come to absorb user generated content as a supplementary source of content. Nowadays the media actively recruit these “open journalists” in order to tap into an additional source of copy. Clearly, this practice brings with it a new array of societal and consequently legal questions. They are only partly covered by the existing legal frameworks, which were designed for media services with less important user input and less inventive media reach out. The field of open journalism and “user generated news” is multi-faceted and its potential regulatory needs warrant first of all some stock taking. To disclose and locate such needs is the goal of the Lead Article of this IRIS plus. The article analyses the impact that resorting to user-generated content has on news-making processes and highlights possible legal consequences. Among others, the article distinguishes different kinds of user-generated content and possible definitions and it looks into how they are or rather might be handled – on a European level – in the jurisprudence on freedom of expression and information as well as in the context of general regulation. It also illustrates why user-generated-content becomes such a “special animal” when offered as part of the news in audiovisual media and how this form of open journalism is capable of generating even more issues concerning media freedom and news-making processes.