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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Citizen journalists challenge BBC
By Matthew Eltringham
Assistant Editor, Interactivity

Who'd pay 160 to see Madonna in concert? Well quite a few people, it appeared, as we opened our inbox on Friday morning - including some even more enthusiastic fans who confessed to buying tickets for every one of her UK performances.
Wreckage of scaffolding
Within minutes of the scaffolding collapse in Milton Keynes, Paul Eastman had sent in this photo

Dentists too provoked a flurry of interest. Patients from all over the country were emailing us to tell us whether their dentist had stayed in or pulled out of the NHS as a result of the new government contracts.

And that was before we were flooded by pictures of the Danube breaking its banks in Budapest, or by pictures of daily life in Iraq away from the kidnappings and the car bombs.

All in a day's work for the new "UGC (User Generated Content) Hub", the team the BBC has established to develop audience participation and debate, as well as eyewitness accounts and pictures, across three mediums - television, radio and the web.

Millions of people from all over the world wanted to tell us what they had seen and done

There'd always been a small team running the increasingly popular Have Your Say debates and we'd introduced new software to allow more people to voice their opinions more directly on the website.

But first the Asian Tsunami, then the London bombings made it clear that millions of people from all over the world wanted to tell us what they had seen and done and not just what they thought.

It's an incredible opportunity, and challenge, for the BBC.

The massive explosion of the oil depot near Hemel Hempstead at six o'clock on Sunday morning underlined the obvious, if painful, fact that news stories don't always break between 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Smoky sky over Buncefield in orange glow
Adam Wheeler captured the blaze at the Buncefield oil depot

That story resulted in around 15,000 images being sent to the BBC, the first arriving at 0616, just 13 minutes after the initial explosion. We also received 20,000 emails from people who had seen or heard the explosion, from Folkestone to Nottingham.

The value of user generated content as a source of amazing news material was underlined on Tuesday, when scaffolding on a building in Milton Keynes collapsed.

Within minutes a trickle then a flood of pictures of the incident came into our inbox. While others were left with maps of the area, News 24 were able to show scores of images of the wreckage.

So the initial small team of three producers that had been looking after user generated content since June, last week expanded to six. And they're now open for business longer too, from 0700 to 2300, seven days a week.

The bigger team means we can provide more opportunities for citizen journalists to send their material to the BBC - and get more of it on air and on the website. We can publish more pictures and run more personal accounts.

So far our best story was about 'the King of Bling'
We've even launched 'Your Stories', asking viewers and readers to send us in stories that haven't made headline news but matter to them. We investigate them and if they stand up we'll run them on the site and on Breakfast and News 24.

So far our best story was about 'the King of Bling' - a campaign to stop a road widening scheme going over the burial site of a Saxon king.

Two things are clear:

Firstly that the demand for access to the BBC from our audience isn't going away. The more user generated content we publish the more we get sent - the demand from our viewer, listeners and readers to participate, debate and comment is growing every day.

Secondly that user generated content is not a 'cheap alternative' to conventional, traditional journalism. The BBC's high editorial standards apply as much to material sent to us by our audience as it does to material generated by our own correspondents.

Veracity and authenticity are vital commodities in journalism be it generated by citizens or the BBC - and it takes time and effort to establish that.


SEE ALSO
Are we all citizen journalists?
16 Jan 06 |  NewsWatch
TV news looks to the future
02 Jan 06 |  NewsWatch


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