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UGC and Digital Divides: Interviewing the Taxi Driver 2.0


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The implications of global and local digital divides for professional journalists' use of user generated content.

  • I have recently come across these which all seem possibly worth integrating but most particularly the Pew work:

    Pew Global Attitudes Project. (2011). Global Digital Communication: Texting, Social Networking Popular Worldwide. Retrieved from
    Kolodzy, J. (2006). Convergence journalism : writing and reporting across the news media. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
    Craig, D. A. (2011). Excellence in online journalism : exploring current practices in an evolving environment. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE.
    Tunney, S., & Monaghan, G. (2010). Web journalism : a new form of citizenship? Brighton: Sussex Academic.
    Correa, T. (2010). The Participation Divide Among “Online Experts”: Experience, Skills and Psychological Factors as Predictors of College Students' Web Content Creation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 16(1), 71-92. Retrieved from
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  • Thanks your points are well taken esp my overly snide comment about tweets 'about nothing'. And I totally concur with your view that forums rather than twitter may be the place to look. Will add that in if I can!
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  • This is useful stuff - I refer to Wardle and Williams's research in the chapter on UGC in the Online Journalism Handbook, and agree that journalists should be wary of seeing online voices as 'representative' in any way, just as they should be wary of thinking a vox pop is representative (or your taxi driver) - I'll add a link to this presentation on the book website as I think there are some diagrams that help illustrate that even better.

    That said, I also think there's an opposite tendency to dismiss UGC completely on the grounds that it's the voice of the 'Twitterati' - and I think that's equally misguided. As I explain in this post - - it does still offer a way to add different voices to media coverage.

    The one slide (19) I would take issue with is where you talk about the subjects of people's blogs, and suggest that 'their life and experiences' amounts to 'about nothing' (excuse me if your own presentation of this is different). There are some very good examples of personal blogs which have become 'journalistic' at the point at which someone's personal experiences overlap with something topical and newsworthy. I think we have a tendency to impose commercial categories on blogs that means we miss their value. For example, we focus on hyperlocal blogs because they fit our concept of local news - general, civic, space-defined. But we overlook local subject-based blogs (e.g. a local GP's blog on health issues, or a campaign site against HS2) because they don't fit our existing concepts of general news publication (likewise, one of the best UGC places to find leads for local journalists are local football club forums - it's not all talk about football). The personal can be political; to dismiss it as being 'about nothing' says something about our methods as journalists and researchers.

    Finally, we need to make a distinction between journalists' focus on particular platforms (especially Twitter) and the platforms that people actually use. Your slides don't mention forums, for example, and these are ignored by most journalists - but more widely used than Twitter and blogs, and by a different demographic. I was at an industry event on UGC last year where I asked why all the discussion was about Twitter and the honest answer was: 'Because it serves our needs - it's a newswire'. Semi-closed networks like Facebook, hard-to-browse interfaces like forums and hard-to-search sites like Flickr and YouTube get less attention from journalists because they require more work. So to continue your allegory, Twitter is the taxi driver of online voices.
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UGC and Digital Divides: Interviewing the Taxi Driver 2.0

  1. 1. UGC and Digital Divides:Interviewing the Taxi DriverDr David R Brake, Senior Lecturer2.0Division of Journalism & CommunicationPresentation at MeCCSA, University of Bedfordshire, Luton 13 Jan2012
  2. 2. Outline•Significance of UGC for news organizations•Who is providing it?•Solicited/submitted – The BBC case•Ambient – Global digital divides•Implications/Recommendations
  3. 3. It‟s everywhere
  4. 4. Supply push•Rising avail of mobile phones… Mobile subs/100 people 2011 (ITU) Africa Developing world Developed world 0 50 100 150
  5. 5. •And cameraphones...
  6. 6. Increasing use ofTwitter, other social media
  7. 7. Demand pull (Davies2008, Allan 2006)•Shrinking newsroom staff•Fewer foreign bureaus (80 countries have neither AP nor Reuters, 130 have no TV from either)•Need for immediate response to fast- breaking stories
  8. 8. Networked Journalism“The public can get involved in a storybefore it is reported, contributingfacts, questions, and suggestions… tohelp report the story… after the story ispublished… the public can continue tocontributecorrections, questions, facts, andperspective”. (Jarvis, 2006)
  9. 9. Claimed benefits• Better journalism through easier access to sources• Fairer journalism• “A chance to replace professional exclusivity with a participatory inclusiveness that might lead to a greater variety among the people who can enter and even run the news media.” (Beckett 2008)
  10. 10. My key question:Internet brings more voices but…Greater variety of voices?
  11. 11. The BBC case
  12. 12. BBC hacks seem to thinkso•“Many journalists felt confident that those who write in are diverse and represented their audience but when prompted to explain why they couldnt produce any hard evidence to support this hunch.” (Wardle, 2008)•However…
  13. 13. Who sends in UGC?•23% of British have sent material to a news organization. Of remainder…•22% „not interested‟ in contributing•18% „can‟t be bothered‟•12% „don‟t have time‟•9% „have nothing interesting to say‟ (Wardle 2008)
  14. 14. What demographics?•34% of high level managers & professionals had submitted vs 12% of two lowest social classes (manual and unwaged)•32% of people w household inc over £40k and 19% of those w income under £10k
  15. 15. UGC in context Hermann(2006) 2000 contributors 100,000 page views 500,000 page views Traffic and contributions to “Have your Say” BBC page vs avg news page
  16. 16. The International Picture
  17. 17. Global digital divides &The Twitter case Visits to Jun 2010 (Comscore) Latin America Asia Pacific Middle East & Africa Europe North America
  18. 18. Top penetration( % Reach1 Indonesia 20.82 Brazil 20.53 Venezuela 194 Netherlands 17.75 Japan 16.811 US 11.913 UK 10.9„Global‟ average (41 countries) 7.4However…
  19. 19. These internet users areoften privileged nationalminoritiesCountry % Internet penetration % pop accessing Twitter.com1 Indonesia 9.9 22 Brazil 40.6 83 Venezuela 35.6 6.64 Netherlands 90.7 15.35 Japan 78.2 13.111 US 74 8.813 UK 85 9.2„Global‟ average (41 35 * 2.5 *countries)2010 Figures from ITU w Internet penetration based on whole world estimates
  20. 20. Who tweets? 2.2% = 58.3% of tweets (Sysomos 2009)
  21. 21. Who is listened to?
  22. 22. Who speaks English? Global English Knowledge (Warschauer, 2003) Native English English as second language English as foreign language Little or no English
  23. 23. And many tweets may be„about nothing‟Main subjects for one‟s blog (Lenhart 2006)• 37% “their life and experiences”• 11% politics and gov‟t• 7% entertainment• 6% sport• 5% news & current eventsThough of course “their life and experiences” issometimes exactly what journalists need tocontextualise a story!
  24. 24. The UGC filters Addressed to journalists About something newsworthy Writing in English Is popular/visible Uses social media Has internet access
  25. 25. And who‟s free to talk?•Some countries block certain social media sites (Investintech, n.d.)•Many countries (and/or domestic internet companies and cybercafes) monitor what is said (Deibert, 2009)
  26. 26. Can lead to distorted coverage• “Twitter was important in publicising what was happening, but its role was overemphasised."• Hamid Tehrani estimates that there were fewer than 1,000 active Twitter users in Iran at the time of the election (Iranian Internet users in 2010 = 13%)
  27. 27. Can lead to a distortedagenda Williams (2010) found 70% of UGC• Wardle & used was „audience comment‟ (with „audience content‟ “arguably not in any greater numbers than a decade ago”)• If journalists or audiences come to believe ambient UGC reflects popular sentiment (locally or overseas) this illusion might lead ironically to further marginalisation of non-elite views• Is quoting Twitter any more representative than quoting taxi drivers?
  28. 28. … even among academics• In India "[citizen journalism]... is slowly exerting influence in politics by exposing corruption, and in society by highlighting issues such as sexual harassment of women and the problems of people on the margins... While its impact has been uneven, the rapid takeup of internet technology by a middle class that is nearly 500 million strong is likely to exert a growing influence in reshaping Indias public sphere.” (Sonwalkar, 2009)• Internet penetration in India is 7.5% (and was 4.3% when he wrote) and the “middle class” in India is widely thought to be 150-300m.• Is the internet really helping India‟s „people on the margins‟ to speak for themselves?
  29. 29. Recommendations• Be mindful of representativeness of contributors – particularly on new applications like Twitter and when looking overseas• “Ambient” contributions may be more representative than solicited/submitted ones (but note ethical concerns)• Look online where the people are (Facebook, locally-dominant online spaces).
  30. 30. Thank you for your attentionDr David R Brake, Senior LecturerDivision of Journalism & Communicationdavid@davidbrake.org
  31. 31. References• Allan, S. (2006). Online News: Journalism and the Internet: Open University Press.• Beckett, C. (2008). SuperMedia: saving journalism so it can save the world. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.• comScore Media Metrix. (2010, August 11). Indonesia, Brazil and Venezuela Lead Global Surge in Twitter Usage Retrieved January 11, 2012, from e• Davies, N. (2008). Flat Earth news: an award-winning reporter exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media. London: Chatto & Windus.• Deibert, R. J. (2009). The geopolitics of internet control Censorship, sovereignty, and cyberspace. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge handbook of Internet politics (pp. 323-337): Taylor & Francis.• Investintech. (N.D.). The World Social Networking Ban Race Retrieved January, 2012, from• ITU. (2011, December). ICT Eye - Free statistics Retrieved January 13, 2012, from• Jarvis, J. (2006, July 5th). Networked journalism Retrieved January 1st, 2012, from journalism/• Lenhart, A., & Fox, S. (2006). Bloggers: A portrait of the internet‟s new storytellers. Retrieved from• Sonwalkar, P. (2009). Citizen journalism in India : the politics of recognition. In S. Allan & E. Thorsen (Eds.), Citizen journalism : global perspectives (pp. 75-84). New York: Peter Lang• Sysomos. (2009). Inside Twitter: An In-Depth Look Inside the Twitter World Retrieved from• Wardle, C., & Williams, A. (2008). UGC@thebbc: understanding its impact upon contributors, non-contributors and BBC News. Retrieved from• Wardle, C., & Williams, A. (2010). Beyond user-generated content: a production study examining the ways in which UGC is used at the BBC. Media, Culture & Society, 32(5), 781-799. doi: 10.1177/0163443710373953• Warschauer, M. (2003). Technology and social inclusion: rethinking the digital divide. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.• Weaver, M. (2010). Irans Twitter revolution was exaggerated, says editor, The Guardian. Retrieved from