Welcome to the User-generated content WikiEdit

This Wiki will explore the use of user-generated content as it relates to use at community newspaper on their websites.


User-generated content is commonly used in the pages of community newspapers, but does the material reach their websites? User-generated content may also be referred to as submitted content, citizen journalism, or participatory journalism. Community newspapers include daily publications and those published less frequently with a circulation of less than 50,000. Online use of submitted content could provide significant additional content. It could also empower a horde of citizen reporters to write about community events the limited reporting staff at most community publications may not have the ability to cover. For example, sports coverage is important to community newspapers, but jayvee, freshman, junior high, or youth games cannot typically be covered by staff. There is also limited space for these stories in print. However, these and many other events could be both covered and given significantly more space, including photographs or video, if members of the community are allowed to submit them for a website, which has unlimited space.

Mark Briggs on Hyperlocal News

Mark Briggs on Hyperlocal News

Mark Briggs in his book “Entrepreneurial Journalism” states that user-generated content is no longer optional for online media companies. Big sites like the Huffington Post have leveraged a combination of user-generated (i.e. free content) with stories written by its professional staff to great affect. This is a model that could be duplicated within the limited budgets of community newspapers.

The concept of user-generated content usage will be divided into several sections. It will include how user-generated content is typically used at community newspapers. Use will be compared to companies that may use user-generate content in print and then if any submitted material is posted online. This wiki will also focus on how community newspapers use user-generated content online.

The potential benefits of adding user-generated content online will also be considered. There are two ideas behind these implications. The first is that by shifting user-generated content from the print publication to the Web, these publications will alleviate themselves of the pressure of trying to fit submitted content into an increasingly tight print space. The second is creating different content for print and online. If community newspapers made better use of user-submitted content they could greatly increase available material for online readers. Additional online content could provide significantly more options for community publications. This could make both the print and online products unique, engage the community on multiple formats, and possibly protect print circulation figures.

There may be costs associated with increased use fo user-generated content. The goal is to begin the discussion about what additional staffing might be needed to make using user-submitted content work and bring attention to the idea of using submitted content online. Online native publications have been successful using user-generated content. Online content growth is possibile due to changing technology.

Syria crisis How bloggers are playing part in weapons analysis

Syria crisis How bloggers are playing part in weapons analysis

The economic potential for citizen journalism can be seen through the creation of new sites dedicated to the material. British Blogger Eliot Higgins has created a site dedicated to crowdsourced reporting. 

Changing technology

Dan Gillmor discusses citizen journalism-0

Dan Gillmor discusses citizen journalism-0

Technology has changed journalism. As Dan Gillmor wrote in his book “We The Media” one of the biggest shifts in industry is the public now has the ability to become part of the journalistic process.

The audience no longer has to wait to receive a newspaper, magazine article, watch television news, or listen to a radio report. Through social media and the Internet it is possible to consume news in real time and the audience can make their own contributions to the story. Gillmor assessed that news is becoming more of a conversation and the lines are blurring between consumers and producers. More people are getting news from their friends using social media. In 2013, 15 percent of people received their news through family and friends' posts on social media.

Digital media makes it more possible for every community to receive some coverage, according to Peter M. Shane. The key is to determine the information needs of communities, if those needs are being met, and if they are not what should be done about it, Shane wrote. Old barriers to publishing have vanished because of new technology. However, there are differences in opinions as to the utility of user-generated content.

Positives of user-generated content

There are a significant number of scholars and professionals in the field of journalism who argue that publications of all sizes should make better use of user-generated content. Community news publications typically use submitted material in print. Therefore, it would seem to be a simple transition to move the content online.

The public is already participating in journalism through blogs and a growing number of online news websites. The question remains could community newspapers make better use of the submitted material they already run in print editions by moving more or all of it online? A study by Hans Meyer and Michael Carey showed that journalists must get involved with their audience at the minimum by replying to comments.

“The goals of community journalism revolve around fostering a cohesive group of people who can take reasoned action together.” (Meyer and Carey, 2014)

Therefore, if Meyer and Carey’s premise is true it would seem that community publications should accept more user-generated content and collaborate with citizen journalists to create a cohesive community group. However, many community newspapers have not adopted tools for the easy submission of content online. There are also few newspapers using the online tools that are considered efficient for community building, according to a 2008 study by David Domingo, Thorsten Quandt, Ari Heinonen, Steve Paulussen, Jane B. Singer and Marina Vujnovic.

Citizen Journalism A powerful weapon in the changing world of media

Citizen Journalism A powerful weapon in the changing world of media

Citizen-produced journalism has already made its mark on the news industry. Citizen reporters broke much of the news at the Boston Marathon bombing and have been involved in nearly every recent breaking news event. Citizen journalists are more likely to express emotions in their stories, whereas the professionals have a more detached attitude toward the news, according to Paulussen and D’Heer. Their study indicated that using citizen journalists would enable professional journalists to focus on hard news stories because the citizen journalists tend to focus on the soft news.

The idea of citizens becoming a growing cadre of reporters and editors is not a new concept. J.D. Lasica wrote about the issue in 1999 stating that in his view the future of the media industry was more citizens would be involved in journalism. This would occur if those people thought of themselves as journalists or not.

Media evolution a conversation with J.D

Media evolution a conversation with J.D. Lasica-0

The work from both academics and professionals indicate that citizen journalism alone will not provide sufficient news for communities. Citizen journalists often do not want to use journalistic standards or feel an obligation to inform the community. An important part of the idea is getting journalists to be willing to accept a more interactive role in working with the audience. Journalists’ attitudes about citizen participation appear to get worse the more comments they receive, according to Meyer and Carey. Therefore, it may be challenging to motivate journalists to work with or accept additional user-generated content. 

There is a growing audience for online content at newspapers as an industry. Journalism wins by bringing more people into the process, according to Murphy. Murphy further argues that a combination of citizen reporting and the work of professional journalists will present a fairer picture of events.There are those who believe that if media companies want to have success in the mobile world they need to offer more than just news. They need to serve as a way for people to connect and interact like social media.

Negatives of user-generated content

Not everyone is in favor user-generated content. For example, Phillips states that citizens who seek to participate in the journalistic process have an agenda. Writers like Tom Alderman questions if citizen reporters can be effective without the training of professional journalists. Alderman’s article further questions the accountability and standards that go into citizens’ reports. The article cites notable incidents such as John McCain’s illegitimate black child and Obama is a Muslim as rumors that were put online as “citizen journalism.” The problem with user-generated content is that the media outlet has no control over what is written, and only has the decision whether or not to publish.

Problem with bloggers and citizen journalists

Problem with bloggers and citizen journalists

Mishal Kashif bemoans that the lack of control with user-generated content could result in material that would not be good for the company or its brand image. Therefore, the material may cause more harm than any potential benefit, Kashif wrote. There is also the potential that without proper safeguards those writing user-generated content could hide behind anonymity to “manufacture a false identity and obtain personal details and contact information from the unsuspecting, vulnerable or naïve,” according to an article by Gordon Hamilton.

The fear of user-generated content may be justified based on the conduct of some people on story comment boards. The goal of message boards is so the community could have engaged debate. A segment of the population uses comment boards to engage in negative behavior ranging from mildly abuse to downright hostile, according to Binns. The concept of trolls is introduced by Binns and she states trolls are people who try to provoke others online using varying degrees of offensive material. It is possible this concept of trolling could move beyond online story comments and become part of user-generated content.

One of the biggest concerns with user-generated news is quality. The Associated Press Managing Editor’s Online Journalism Credibility Project tackles the idea of newspapers maintaining credibility while using citizen journalism. The project proposes simple ideas like adding an editor’s note to blogs written by community members, recruiting more writers, and encouraging better levels of participation by putting the best community writers in featured places online while new or less polished articles are moved to more inside pages. The full APME report is available here.

Additional user-generated content will include pitfalls. The Knoxville News had an issue in early May with a prom photograph that was submitted to the paper and ran both on Facebook and on the publication’s website. The photo generated some negative reactions and was even mentioned on the Jim Romenesko blog after the publication agreed to remove the photo of a teenage girl and her prom date holding guns . The paper stated that it chose to remove the photo after a request from the mother and comments that were posted about the girl on the publication's Facebook page. However as this article from Romenesko about a false iReport regarding a giant asteroid on a collision course with earth showed the audience has the ability and is willing to check the veracity of posts. Users flagged the article and NASA was able to confirm the information was false.

Economics of user-generated content Edit

Traditional media struggle with capturing the monetary potential of online media products. Hayes and Graybeal state however that media companies shouldn’t immediately remove free material, but gradually move consumers toward paying through micropayments for news stories. The problem is media companies earn five times less from mobile advertising than they do from print. As readers rush to mobile news, they are putting a greater strain on newsrooms as they seek to transition to more mobile and digital products.


Digital news consumption changed the way that newsrooms think about staffing. Companies use metrics to determine when people access news and use staff so that news won’t be stale. It might be possible to use citizen reports as a way to have fresh news during these times that are traditional unstaffed in most newsrooms.  

Fiscally it seems community newspapers, particularly those in rural areas should not underestimate the impact of online news. Previously companies made comments about rural areas being less connected or their older populations don’t read news online. The 2014 Pew Research Internet Project Survey shows a growing percentage of people above the age of 50 and those living in rural areas are using the Internet. This is part of a growing trend of increased Internet use. Due to changing economics, newspapers are going to a more local product, reducing print space and using less copy from newswire services. The Nieman Journalism Lab article further mentions the media are looking to Jeff Bezos and his ownership of The Washington Post as someone who could potentially come up with a model to monetize digital news that could be used at other publications.

The potential financial implications are a significant portion of any suggested change within the media industry. Any alternations have to be sustainable fiscally to have a chance in the tight budgets of a community newspaper. There are online publications that are reducing their use of user-generated content. This article from stated the company has altered its policy on submitted content because too many public relations and marketing firms were sending in stories for the site.

The economics of the newspaper business are forcing a number of individuals within the business to consider drastic measures. For example Timothy A. Franklin, former Baltimore Sun editor, has suggested instead of giving people a printed copy of the newspaper that publications should provide a Nook or Kindle as a way to get people accustomed to using e-readers while protecting the print revenues.

Building community is an effective means of creating economic value for news publications, according to Michael Skoler. The publication must consider itself to be part of a community where people can engage and participate within and not simply as a curator of news, Skoler wrote.

Citizen Journalism is Reshaping the World Brian Conley at TEDxMidAtlantic

Citizen Journalism is Reshaping the World Brian Conley at TEDxMidAtlantic

Consumers do have the ability to add value for a publication. However for that to happen it is necessary for a new business method that takes advantage of that new value. Depending on how user-generated content is used it can have differing economic impact. The question around this re-emerging trend might be, who benefits from citizen journalism? “For starters, for-profit news organizations potentially do. As they cut costs and chop off hordes of staff, they might increase their information sources - at no cost. The so-called reporter benefits by the simple act of creating a story and seeing it published - somewhere. Ego boost. What about the news consuming public at-large?,” Tom Alderman asked.

How do you get your users to generate the kind of content a publication want them to produce instead of the kind they want to produce? However the question remains if media companies should want to, or even consider, trying to control what the audience posts. There are those who believe user-generated content is about giving the audience more control. Especially as user-generated content becomes more common in the media world. Many of these online native journalism companies are committed to user-generated content and would “be diminished” without it, according to Ingram. For example there are companies that are willing to buy the same material that a number of media companies seek to publish without paying the producer. ONe issue with this site is that once someone has submitted their photo and it is sold, that person forever loses all rights to the image and it could be used to advertise any type of product.

Community buildingEdit

This section will focus on successful efforts to build communities online. User-generated content could aid community newspapers in building an online community and create a place where journalists can converse with their audience. There are three concepts that are part of any online community: people, collaboration, and content. Media communities represent a specific type of online community, according to the article. They typically revolve around letting the audience comment on news, sports, or entertainment pieces, and can serve as a place where journalists can gaint first-hand reports or other information about events, according to the article.

Research should examine where journalists have successfully used the web to build a community. The culture of a publication relates directly to how well user-generated content is implicated, according to a 2008 article by Steve Paulussen and Pieter Ugille. These authors questioned if newsrooms could create a culture of collaboration with the public there is poor communication within publications. This lack of collaboration can lead to frustration amongst citizen journalists, according to the article. However their work is treated as a secondary, and not a primary, source of information based on institutional factors.

Citizen journalism efforts include writing, photo and video. There is increasing competition for these resources in the Internet marketplace as more publications use submitted material. There are  publications that pay for user-submitte photos. There are those who question if because the Internet has allowed increased activity from the audience then there is a risk some publications take this content for granted. These sites don’t always provide clear information indicating that an audience member provided the photo. The article further states that while online publications often give people methods to personalize content they typically do not allow for users to directly contribute to newsgathering and when it is, the information is displayed differently than stories produced by news organization staff.

The growth of journalism online has expanded the reach of community journalism beyond its traditional geographic limitations, Gilligan said.

“Expansions in online news audiences beyond the newspapers’ traditional geographic communities may enhance civic engagement, the exchange of ideas among the public, and community participation.” (Gilligan, 2011)

Gilligan's study indicates that community newspapers remain behind metro and national publications in terms of using new media techniques. The question remains if it is feasible for community newspapers to add features at a reasonable cost that will enable them to take advantage of the opportunities that exist through using new media technology.

The newspaper of the future must have voices from outside of the newsroom involved in every phase of the editorial process, according to Glaser.

Glaser further states this effort to create a community hub online should include reaching out to the community for bloggers, muckrakers and go-to experts. A potential key to any online newspaper serving as a community hub is the existence of a solid relationship between the audience and journalists producing content about the community. However, Joy Mayer said that one of the problems is too many journalists have separated themselves from the community through the notion of objectivity.

“The motivating idea behind the disconnection was simple: To enhance their ability to fairly report the news, journalists needed to stand apart from their  community rather than be participants.” (Mayer, 2011).

The problem with this method is that journalists have not established roots or history within the community they cover, according to Mayer. She further argues that story ideas should include some engagement element including finding stories that reflect community conversations either online or offline.


Online communities that are able to provide posters with an identity, for example profile pages, and create a bond are likely to be most effective, Yuqing et al. (2012) said. Those seeking to create communities may want to create areas that emphasize group or community purpose. This could include any potential topic forum or story that might be posted on a community newspaper site.

Allowing story comments is one method for community newspapers to create an online community. In a study of community newspapers that allowed story comments it was found that more than 70 percent of those comments made some contribution to an information base, according to Sindorf. His study indicated less than half of respondents provided any sort of solution to the problem that was brought up in the discussion, Furthermore, 70 percent of posts indicated that the poster considered the positions of anyone who posted before them, which indicates a majority of users were moving the conversation forward.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said the key to any site where information is shared is to construct a “culture of trust.” The public should be given the ability to police themselves and set a tone for the site, Newmark wrote.

“But as in daily life, bad guys exist, and a few of them surface occasionally in our online neighborhood. We've found them to be a tiny but loud minority,  an experience echoed by every successful Web site I've heard about.”  (Newmark, 2006).

Success in online communitiesEdit

Upload site

This shows an example of an easy way for citizens to upload material at a community newspaper.

User contributions are key to any type of successful online community, according to Travis Alber. The steps to submitting material must be easy to encourage contributions. An online community has the same characteristics of any other community with the exception of location. It requires a group of people with some type of general interest. Creating an online community involving a community newspaper includes the assumption that potential participants would have some interest in the geographic area covered by the publication, although the participants would not have to live within the community.

The question in Kebbel’s view was could the Web create the same sense of community. The growth with the growth of Facebook and social media since Kebbel wrote the article in 2006 shows that online communities can serve as a shared space.

It is expected that user-generated content will aid community newspapers in the development of online communities. Part of creating these communities is developing a community purpose. A study by Shannon Sindorf found that 70 percent of the comments made in online forums would impact the greater knowledge base. In addition, publications may want to consider allowing anonymity and provide the audience with a way to police themselves. Alber's study showed that audiences believe anonymity improves comments from minority views. It has also been shown that civility in online forums is not a large concern to the public, particularly not in the same way it is to journalists. In addition, it should be understood that even if a small number of people are commenting there are many more who are viewing the material and chose not to comment providing a larger reach.

Online communities be they forum, comment boards. or anywhere the audience can participate have value because they can serve as a place for people to take ownership and participate in the publication. Journalists can also use that connection to help with generating content.


The key to using online communities at community newspaper is having an engaged audience. Online communities and the user-generated content that are submitted improve with more effective moderation, according to a 2011 study by Chen and Whinston. A system where moderators provide users with reputation points always produces better comments than an unregulated system, according to the study. In addition moderation will screen out biased information, and keep out advertisers or others who would try and take advantage of the system, according to Chen and Whinston. Sindorf noted that respondents tended to be more respectful in their commentary when it came to local issues as opposed to national ones. However a view of sites such as Topix shows that Sindorf may be incorrect. These Topix sites are local and often contain uncivil comments. Those who create online communities need to understand users wil act both civil and uncivil.

“Closing online comment boards because of the incivility they contain deprives the public of an opportunity for informal democratic deliberation that is not necessarily made less valuable because it may be unpleasant for some to read,” (Sindorf, 2013).

Trolling does exist and there are people who are going to attempt to use whatever interactive means are available to provoke others into angry reactions, according to a 2013 article by Christopher Hopkinson. The author further states that trolling can assist in community building because others will involve themselves in the conversation supporting the side with which they agree.

Creating a community means that the audience has taken ownership of the publication, Breiner said. CNN uses the iReports to provide “a giant Rolodex of stories and people to follow up on,” according to Lila King, participation director for CNN Digital. The site builds community and provides a platform for anyone who wishes to use it, she wrote.


This Wiki is designed generate comments around the issue of user-generated content and its online use at community newspapers. There are hundreds of community newspapers throughout the United States and nearly all of them accept citizen journalism to some degree. Each of these publication’s have different policies as to how much of the material they use and if it is placed online or only used in print publications. There also remains questions about the utility of user-generated content and what benefit it provides to a community newspaper. The need remains for specific examples of user-generated content being used online at community newspapers and how those examples have worked.

Journalists are still learning about the potential of user-generated content. Katerina Cizek said she became aware of the power of citizen journalists in 1991 when she saw the film of Rodney King being beaten by police officers. The fact remains however that while some journalists might have seen the potential of new technology at that point, media companies as a general rule did not. Former Lexington Herald Leader and Philadelphia Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett wrote in 2012 that during the previous years companies were flailing for answers and being “apocalyptic.” As an editor she should have trusted the news, stopped searching for a magic bullet, and made more brave decisions. There is still much that can be learned about potential economic benefits of utilizing user-generating content.

This Wiki examines a number of concerns that are associated with user-generated content. These items include a lack of control by publications over submitted content. Another issue could be false and malicious reports such as John McCain’s illegitimate black child and Obama is a Muslim situations; however, these incidents started not at news sites, but at citizen created journalism sites. There are also professional sites like Patch, the Knoxville News and CNN’s iReport where various problems have occurred either financially or in terms of quality based on reader submitted content.

There are also a number of potential benefits for community publications. For example the Huffington Post has successfully developed a business model that combines the use of user-submitted content and professionally written journalism. There remain questions about if The Huffington Post provides fair compensation to submitters. Publications that want to post user-generated content must make the submission process simple.

Financial implications should be part of the equation. Traditional media companies, including community newspapers, are working to learn the best way to monetize Internet content. There is a growing audience for online journalism and some theories suggest news companies could be more successful by bringing additional people into the news production process. There are a number of online publications that contain significant amounts of user-generated content as a cheap or free source of material. There are some online news sites that rely significantly this free or cheap content to make their business plan work. These sites lend credence to the idea that community newspapers might to be able to help themselves economically by encouraging an increased amount of user-generated content on their website. However there are some sites such as WritersWeekly or One Spoon at a Time that pay small amounts for this content. It remains to be seen if they would have an impact on the user-submitted content that is provided to community journalism outlets.

There remains significant room for more information on this Wiki. It would be useful to hear from managers at community newspapers to learn about how their individual website handles user-generated content. They could provide information on how their policies have developed and the good and bad aspects of what they have done. Information is also needed about the role of social media when it comes to citizen journalism. The question remains wow do community publications use social media to interact with their audience? Does the publication attempt to gain sources or just use social media to promote stories? You can add your thoughts about user-generated content directly to any of these sections or email me at  


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