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Regaining balance in the face of citizen journalism

The rise of citizen journalism has created several issues in recent years. As news sharing becomes increasingly decentralised, audiences are more likely to question the validity of content and become entrenched in their own world view. This means tackling misinformation is more important than ever, writes Steve Wise, global marketing director, Atomos

While media organisations still have the resources to offer the most polished and well-researched broadcasts, they can’t be everywhere at once. The capture and distribution of breaking news was previously managed by outlets that needed to ensure journalistic integrity and be accountable to their audience. Now with the ubiquity of mobile devices, the face of news gathering has changed beyond recognition.

To fully understand complex global issues such as climate change, viewers need the right context and background to make informed decisions. Quality reporting requires time to fact-check and build a story, but broadcasters need to adapt to an increasingly fragmented media landscape. The challenge broadcasters face is the veracity of citizen journalism – if anyone, anywhere, can produce a news story, then accuracy cannot be guaranteed. There are quality independent outlets that are leveraging social media to disseminate well-researched stories, but not everyone has the experience, or the motivation to ensure accurate reporting.

The role of user-generated content

There are several reasons to remain skeptical about user-generated content and the majority of these revolve around objectivity. It is not uncommon for groups with vested interests to bend the story to support their cause, destroying any impartiality. It is certainly easy to mislead an audience with selective editing or the removal of vital context. But even worse, in some cases the action presented in a news piece might have been completely staged and doesn’t reflect a genuine event.

To avoid misinterpretation there is an urgent need to get accurate news contribution reports in front of viewers, before inaccurate versions of a story become widely disseminated. Especially as social media rewards controversial content to achieve higher levels of engagement. Citizen journalism can offer several benefits, so it’s important to harness the positive aspects to ensure that news broadcasting evolves in the right direction. If a news piece is shot and edited by someone with intimate local knowledge, it can be a raw and truthful reflection of what is happening on the ground. This is especially true in culturally sensitive situations where without a full news team, citizen reporters can access newsworthy events as if they were just another member of the public.

Challenging unverified content

One way to counter the deluge of inaccurate information is to publish the verifiable version as soon as possible. There’s a simple logic, if you can get a news event out before everyone else then your piece will get the most engagement. But the challenge is that breaking news has to be online within minutes, if not seconds, to beat the smartphones that also captured the footage.

Recent technological developments are helping genuine news gatherers to post polished, branded news items on-air or on social media almost immediately. Camera to cloud involves sending a proxy file directly from the camera into the cloud, where it can be quickly edited and packaged before sharing. Just a few years ago, this was experimental technology and barely a proof of concept, but it is now affordable and reliable and is helping to challenge the impact of misleading or biased content.

Connectivity and latency

As mobile bandwidth continues to improve and terrestrial mobile connectivity migrates to 5G, high speeds and low latency are becoming the norm. Proxy workflows in the cloud can also leverage multiple bonded 4G/LTE connections for reliable and fast news contributions. For locations where there’s no mobile coverage, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations offer usable bandwidth. Within two or three years, there won’t be anywhere on Earth that doesn’t have a reliable mobile internet connection to facilitate Camera to Cloud.

Cameras don’t typically have any ability to upload proxy files, but Atomos has developed products for this purpose, and this enables users to record a master camera file at the same time. The ability to upload footage in the background while still shooting drastically reduces the time it takes to capture, edit, and share content. Proxy files have also improved significantly and can be good enough to publish directly, without relinking with the original camera files. 

Transforming news production

Technical innovation is changing the face of news production, editing your cloud video files in a browser removes the need for a traditional workstation. Once edited, you can send your media – without transcoding it – directly to social media platforms or straight to a newsroom. Camera to Cloud is a catch-all description for a bouquet of technologies that are revolutionising the newsgathering landscape. It is likely to become the default modus operandi for all types of production, not just news and current affairs. It offers professional news gatherers and producers the same sort of immediacy as citizen journalists but allows them to retain the values of accurate reporting. 

In the face of a relentless 24-hour news cycle, camera to cloud protects the professional editorial chain and maximises decades of cumulative experience in producing news content. This matters because, while many citizen journalist contributions are outstanding and the world is a better place because of them, it is just as easy to propagate false information as it is factual material. As the saying goes, a lie flies around the world before the truth has got its trousers on. So, for a commercial news organisation, if you get breaking news published first, you’ll get the engagement first. In a world where attention is also proportional to revenue, that’s a big deal.