Archive for July 29th, 2005

Were all reporters now (?)

Yesterday I went to ‘We are all reporters now?’ a presentation by Vicky Taylor and Guy Pelham from BBC News. It dealt with the covering of 7th July and the role user generated content can play in news reporting.

The presentation began with a slide to illustrate traditional photo journalism, images of Life magazine’s moon issue, Don McCullin’s shell shocked solider and some other classic imagery, all taken by professional photographers and sent back to a magazine maybe months later to be published.

The presentation then went on to talk about how News Interactive have actively encouraged users to send in images, emails and SMSs. Either by sending it to 07921 648159 or mailing to

They then went on to talk about the actual events of the 7th.. how emails from users were ahead of the authorities, giving them a more informed picture of what was happening on the ground. One email read: “My gf works up by Holborn and has just called to tell me a bus has exploded outside her office in Tavistock Square, bodies strewn all over the road”. This came in at 9:57am, when the emergency services were still talking about power surges on the tube.

So, emails come in first, then images, most of which were verified and checked, and then used on News 24. Then a little later came the video footage. One movie actually went out whole, with no professional shots in at all, just a voice over the low res images describing the events as they were happening. And this went out on the Six o’clock news.

The next and most interesting slide illustrated server load. As you know the less robust homepage servers were running really hot… News have a more battery approach to their servers and so I think they coped a little better.

Here’s the slide showing the 7th of July against other world events. Simply incredible.

Some more stats.. Have Your Say normally gets 10,000 emails a day and emails to your pics average 100-200 images a week. On July 7th they got 20,000 emails on the London Bombings, 1000 images from the public and 3000 SMS messages. That is a lot of ‘reporters’ in the field. And two weeks later on the 21st, it happened again…

Guy then talked about the knock on effect. When a warehouse caught fire in Wembley, normally not that news worthy, they still got 3 videos and over 20 pictures.. people now know they can send in stuff and get it published.

This is a complete paradigm shift for News and the rest of the BBC. Hopefully we’ve now proved ourselves a hub of user generated content. There were some good points made in the Q&A that followed that addressed this. One older guy in the audience echoed Guys earlier ‘not my generation’ sentiment by asking ‘why do people do it?’ Well it’s the same answer as I talked about in the post below.., the iPhoto generation, people now share images not for money, but for kudos. Danny O’Brien at Open Tech talked about the de-coupling of fame and fortune, and perhaps this is the result of that.. that you can get fame and kudos simple by sharing, like this for example. It’s peer group admiration, mixed with hero syndrome and recognition, in short, ‘I was there therefore I’m important’ and the photograph is the witness to that event. In that respect, it’s transcended traditional photographers. That’s why all the best shots of the bus were by amateurs, taken before the police put up the white screen, and as Guy went on to explain, the Met even set up exclusion zones over the sites so helicopters couldn’t get the shots.

The question of payment again came up. This was answered with, ‘you send it to us, you give it us for free’, or ‘if it’s at the right price, we’ll pay for it’. The other thing to bare in mind is that this story present a unique scenario for this paradigm shift to grow in. When the transport system itself shuts down, you can move photographers around. That’s why the other main source of ‘holding’ footage was from the BBC’s traffic cameras positioned around London.

The presentation ended with the first slide, only with the ? removed. I’d sort of disagree a bit, as they made quite clear in the presentation that it’s still them in control, they apply the same journalistic principles to all submissions, they check against the editorial guidelines, they will not do a Peers Morgan or a BBC World/Bhopal and get caught out.. So maybe it’s ‘were all camera (wo)men now’ ?


In other news, today was a Thursday and London was on high alert. There were six police officers at Gipsy Hill station this morning, and some at every station I went through on my way to work. Coming home each platform at Clapham Junction has on average three officers on it… which kind of made me laugh when the ‘pickpockets operate on this station’ auto-announcement cam over the PA. Is this what a policed state looks like.

Also on the footbridge over the station I saw officers do a stop and search on a Asian guy, Search_claphamjunction. It’s hard to see what’s going on but basically two WPCs asked if they could look inside this guy’s bag as he came up to the footbridge from the platform. He was smart looking , but did have a long raincoat on so they searched his bag and his person as well as taking down a few details… the picture’s poor as I was try to act normal as another PC was nearby keeping an overview of the situation. After the police said good bye I approached the guy and told him I worked for the BBC. I asked him if he objected to what had just happened. He said no, it was all done politely and he didn’t mind at all.. in fact he said he’d be worried if they weren’t carrying out searches… but imagine doing that five/six times a day?

Today’s other ‘terrorist news’ was the end of violent struggle by the IRA. It’s mad to think that after nearly 40 years this has come to an end, and I was thinking about how that has touched my life.. what a month.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
July 2005