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Iran’s user generation
Former head of BBC Persian Rob Beynon says that social networks may have been pivotal in the Iranian elections, but they don’t mean news is dead.
February 19, 2010 11:12 by Austyn Allison
What was special about the content?
Of all the big stories recently, it was the best example of user-generated content being the major element in gathering the story. A lot of very interesting user-generated content came out of Burma a couple of years ago, but the important thing about Iran was that the quantity was great and the range was great, and the interactivity was greater. There were people who were actually able to take part in the programs and take part in the debate, often at great personal risk.
How did people take part?
We were doing several daily interactive programs in which people could text, e-mail, and phone in, and we had no shortage of people doing that from Iran, and other countries as well. I think news broadcasters now can’t ignore the fact that the whole thing is a two-way process. You’re now never further away from spot news – a breaking news story – than somebody with a mobile phone. You don’t wait to send a crew, you find out if somebody is there who’s got a mobile phone and have them film.
It doesn’t mean that the journalist’s role is gone. On the contrary, it means that journalists are called to account more and more, because you have to source this stuff, you have to contextualize it, you have to provide the analysis. But it does mean that you’ve got huge potential to instantly cover things that are happening.
How should television channels capitalize on this kind of content?
You make it second nature to people to say, “I’ve walked around the corner and something’s happening; I’ll use my mobile phone and I’ll send it to my favorite broadcaster.” We always used to say that Americans must stand around the corner waiting to be interviewed in a vox pop, because they were so articulate when a crew came up and asked them a question. Now, in many places, people are so savvy that they’re shooting the thing on an iPhone or mobile phone and then uploading it and sending it off straight away. It’s all done without hesitation.
For the broadcaster, for the news channel, the emphasis has to be, “What’s the second way? How do I provide the in-depth quality coverage? How do I provide the analysis? How do I do the comparative coverage?” You’ll still need high-quality coverage and you’ll still need to be able to put it into context. Otherwise it’s YouTube; YouTube is fantastic but YouTube isn’t going to tell you anything deep about a news story.