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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
The picture business

By Fran Unsworth
Head of Newsgathering, BBC News

Circle line Tube
The July 7 bombings were a turning point in "citizen newsgathering"
The issue of how broadcasters deal with the huge increase in "user generated content" (UGC) or "citizen newsgathering" has been highlighted again by coverage of the anti-terror raid in Forest Gate in east London.

It has been sniffily reported that some TV producers (apparently working for rival broadcasters) were offering members of the public cash and contracts for their mobile phone clips. People are obviously getting wise to the notion that their material could earn them a bob or two.

This is not a new occurrence however. Newsgatherers have always been prepared to pay money for what we formerly termed "amateur video". It has netted us crucial pictures which we have used in the coverage of stories such as ferry disasters, the aftermath of explosions etc.

Part of the reason we like to buy this material is because it means we then own the copyright. This enables us to pass our TV packages on to a number of overseas broadcasters with whom the BBC has reciprocal arrangements.

Big change

Along came News Online which made a point of asking the public to send in their pictures, for which they were quite clear they would not be paying. Apart from anything else, they couldn't afford to, but in addition it didn't really fit the spirit of the new medium with its greater emphasis on interaction with the audience.

So in effect we had two different systems for handling material provided by the public.

Adam Wheeler's view of the oil depot fire at Buncefield
Adam Wheeler captured the blaze at the Buncefield oil depot
What has significantly changed the way we deal with these issues is the enormous growth in UGC content. With so many digital cameras and mobile phones out there it provides us with a huge increase in picture gathering capability and has proved enormously valuable: the 7/7 London bombs, the Buncefield fire and the recent Cleveland explosion are the most notable recent examples.

Market value

We cannot be in the business of buying all the content provided by the public. There is simply now too much of it and most of it is not worth the expenditure.

But there is nonetheless still a competitive market for really special material and the BBC should be part of that market in order for our journalism to remain of the highest quality.

A major consideration when dealing with this material concerns the safety issues around it
Whether we pay the public for the material and how much is up to the judgement of producers on the ground who can see the pictures and the Newsgathering editor at base. Their decision would be based on the value of the shots as far as telling the story is concerned, the price and how much we think it appropriate for a publicly funded broadcaster to pay.

A major consideration when dealing with this material though concerns the safety issues around it. Professional news crews covering fires, explosions etc have been through a considerable amount of training on how to avoid endangering their own or anyone else's life.

But members of the public might not be as aware of the risks. That's why we try to stress that if they are going to collect such material on our behalf, they should not put themselves in any danger.

TV news looks to the future
02 Jan 06 |  NewsWatch
Site protects rights of snappers
06 Oct 05 |  Technology
Are we all citizen journalists?
16 Jan 06 |  NewsWatch
More time to question raid pair
07 Jun 06 |  UK News


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