Paying for it?
I noticed the following story on Guardian Online yesterday - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1949140,00.html - about the fact that the BBC is going to pay for some user generated content in future if it is "particularly editorially important or unique."
Hmmm. We'll see what that actually means in future. But I spent the afternoon at the News Interactive Centre at the BBC earlier this week, as UGC is becoming increasingly important when it comes to covering natural disasters. The cliche is that the tsunami was particular because it happened to be a disaster where there were lots of rich Western tourists with video cameras and was thus a one-off.
But according to the BBC journalists that I spoke to the tsunami may have inspired people in disasters that followed to send in emails and footage. The Asia Quake of October 2005 saw 3,000 emails flood in on the first day (including one from Margala Towers a mere eight minutes after it happened). If you look on the BBC website http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/south_asia/2005/south_asia_quake/default.stm then you can see a wide range of video footage, witness accounts, and photographs sent in by people who were there, rather than journalists. Of particular interest is the photo gallery sent in by Rab Nawaz of WWF who photographed the remote Palasis - peoples that journalists would probably have never got access to.
I don't think UGC will replace journalism as some people seem to fear. But it will be a useful addition for colour stories and eyewitness accounts. The interesting thing for aid agencies is that these are the kind of stories that they have traditionally acted as mediators - setting up case studies, spokespeople etc for journalists - what is their role when the middleman is cut out?