By Ogova Ondego
Published September 11, 2013
In this era of interactive social media, traditional media that wish to remain competitive are advised to involve members of the public in the creation of original and high quality content. And, they should steer clear of just waiting for listeners, viewers or readers to call, text or email content to them. Mass media have to go beyond the traditional phone-ins, letters-to-the-editor, Vox Pop and eye-witness accounts in the 21st century that is known interchangeably as Information Society and Knowledge Society.
“The demand from viewers, listeners and readers to participate, debate and comment via the media is now a permanent feature of society. If broadcasters do not make effective use of [User-Generated Content] then audiences will switch to other media platforms that actively encourage audience participation,” a new publication targeting broadcasters says.
Written by Martin Scott, a lecturer in media and international development in the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and published by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and UNESCO in 2009, the 60-page manual covers the area referred to as User-Generated Content (UGC) and Media and Information Literacy (MIL). It outlines the types of UGC, who contributes UGC and how to promote UGC and MIL in education and in the communities.
Though primarily targeting broadcasters, the book can also be used by policy-makers and implementers, media educators, mass media organisations, media managers, researchers, students, civic education practitioners, community leaders and anyone else interested in UGC and MIL.
The manual provides guidelines to help broadcasters promote MIL and UGC in the most appropriate ways.
“The promotion of UGC and MIL and the use of UGC are vital for helping the media to fulfill [their] democratic functions in society,” the introduction says. “By providing not only a space for the public to express themselves but also the skills and capacity to take part in public debate, broadcasters can ensure that citizens’ rights to freedom of expression is realised.”
So what is UGC?
User-generated content is also known as consumer-generated content, user-created content, citizen journalism, social media or participatory media. UGC, therefore, “refers to all publicly available media content that is produced by audiences.”
What about MIL?
“MIL refers to all manners of skills and competencies including the ability to evaluate media functions and seek, use and create media content.” It is the ability to access, organise, analyse, evaluate and create content in the form of images, sounds and texts from which to make informed decisions.
The manual highlights the dividends accrued to the broadcaster who uses and promotes UGC. They include free access to material—footage of breaking news stories—which they might otherwise not have; the expertise of certain members of the audience can be utilised to help develop news stories; broadcasters can be enabled to represent and reflect the interests and concerns of the audience in general; helps strengthen the relationship between broadcasters and their audience; broadcasters who adapt to and make use of UGC in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and other interactive social media are best placed to thrive in an increasingly competitive market place.
The book also points to the loopholes of UGC and suggests ways of mitigating them. The issues touch on legality and suitability, reliability and accuracy, and commercial and practical implications of airing UGC.
Other areas tackled in the manual that is divided into eight sections are promoting UGC and MIL in formal and non-formal education, promoting UGC and MIL in communities, and the necessary skills for effective UGC and MIL.
In-text references, a bibliography of literature on MIL and UGC, and a long list of references are used to enrich the subject under discussion.
Running just 60 pages, the book cannot be said to be quite user-friendly; the pages appear quite crowded, something that is made worse by the equally smaller print without any illustrations to break the monotony of letters. Yes, the print is smaller than what one finds in books, newspapers and magazines. This may lead to the eye of the average—especially any one older than 30—reader of the book straining. The question it leads to is: were the publishers constrained by space that they decided to cram the quality information in the book in limited space? Well, we suggest it be reprinted in a new, user-friendly format.