Anyone with a smartphone can be a journalist.
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat) make it possible for everybody to report everything, everywhere.
Mass media publishes user-generated content (UGC) to enhance their reporting. BBC started requesting UGC in 2005, after the bombings in London. CNN launched iReport in 2006. Fox News later released its version, uReport. All of these platforms promote this idea of citizen journalism.
On January 28, 2015, the New York Times published nine Instagram photos taken by citizens on their front page. These photos documented the most recent “blizzard” under the headline, “Leaders Defend Shutdown For a Blizzard That Wasn’t.”
Poynter contributor Katie Hawkins-Gaar wrote a piece on the cover calling it “an exciting moment for user-generated content.” Gaar was once the editor of iReport and is thrilled to see more UGC used in major mass media outlets.
Gaar said, in her article, that while NYT credited these user’s photos to their full names, they did not include their Instagram handles. She said she felt as though this was necessary information and, after speaking with some of the photo contributors, they did too.
Although credit was given, the contributors were not notified that their photos were used until the day after publication. Notification was not required as the contributors agreed for their content to be used. Some of them agreed to NYT’s Terms of Service by uploading them onto their website. Others simply hash tagged “#nytsnow” which allowed their photo to be seen by NYT.
I spoke to some of my friends to gauge their reaction, asking them how they would feel if their content was used.
“I think they should source name and handle just to cover all of their bases if it’s something taken without permission. I’d want them to be as thorough as possible in giving credit.” –McKenzie Culler/@ihatemckenzieculler, Senior, Stanford University
“I’d say it’s public domain. If my Instagram is public and I used a hashtag with the intention of getting more notice than if I had not. If I wanted my online m
edia to be private, I’d make my accounts private.” –Jourdan Black/@jourdanblack, Junior, UNC-Chapel Hill
“I wouldn’t mind! I know everything I put on Instagram is public (even though it’s private…but especially if it was public I wouldn’t care.) Also I would be honored because I love the NYT.” –Hallie Altman/@hallie_altman, Junior, UNC-Chapel Hill
“I would be happy! Especially if it was a picture of YOU!” –Sarah Gardner/@smgardner64, my mother
This is basically how the contributors felt about their photos being used. They were thrilled to be selected and understood their photos were public and meant for them to be seen by NYT. However they felt as though their accreditation could have been more thorough with the use of their handles.
What NYT did was totally legal. However, Gaar said as more UGC is used a set of rules and ethics will be necessary.
While it seems to be a new trend, it has been around for 10 years and certainly has a future. The time to create such guidelines is now. If everyone is a journalist, they deserve to be treated as such. Part of this is giving credit where credit is due.