Time is not far when we will see a billion Indians become journalists. But this is only possible when TV news channels decide to go for a major proportion of viewer-generated content. Haven’t we seen citizens raise their voice and claim what they want? Be it Internet, radio or television, it is evident that the focus is shifting towards involving viewers and readers in generating more content for the mainstream media. A few news channels, though not in favour of a complete viewer-generated format, have already taken this direction.
The India Today Group and Aaj Tak were the first ones to integrate interactivity by allowing viewers to send their views via SMS and email. They had started a programme called ‘Public Demand’ that was aired on their channel Tez. Today, they use a lot of viewer-generated content for various human interest related stories. Commenting on citizen journalism, G Krishnan, CEO, Aajtak, said, “I think it’s an opportunity for us – not only does it involve the viewers in the news process, but it also gives us a chance to cover first hand news and events.”
CNN-IBN had launched a show called ‘Citizen Journalist’ last year. The show generated good response and was successful in its attempt to engage the viewers. As of now, the company doesn’t use more than 10 per cent of viewer-generated content. Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN, said, “News channels want to use interactivity in a manner that they can reflect it in a spirit that we call ‘inclusive journalism’. The attempt is to engage the viewer in such a way that he doesn’t feel remote to what is happening around him, thus giving him the sense of participation in the news process.”
Neil Chowdhury, Marketing Head, Times Now, recalled how hundreds of reports had flown in from citizens last week when Mumbai was affected after the season’s first rainfall. Giving his opinion on citizen journalism, he explained, “With interactive platform like text messaging, email, telephone calls, shared videos and blogs, there is greater flexibility for viewers to connect with us.”
Chowdhury agreed that his channel does pick pictures and videos from the web. “We do this very rarely in an attempt to show something very special, or sometimes simply as a navigational tool to tell the viewers that there is something that they may want to check out on the web. But there is also nothing that stops us from maintaining our integrity and sourcing the outsourced content,” he added.
Technology has a major role in promoting citizen journalism. With high-resolution cameras embedded in cell phones, people can very easily take videos of anything happening around them. A classic example of this was when there was a bomb blast at a mosque in Maharashtra’s small town Malegaon, and all TV channels had run out of time to capture the images of the blast. But it was a local guy from Malegaon who had taken live pictures of the event. These pictures were ultimately aired by many news channels, in order to provide something for the viewers to look at.
Citizens, especially the youth, are uploading their content on websites like YouTube and Orkut. It is interesting to know how much of these areas are covered by TV channels and publications. “It is one of those things that we haven’t started. But I have no doubt that opportunities would be provided to all citizens who want their content to be showcased on our channel,” claimed Sardesai. However, he also stated that there would always be filters to monitor content before putting it up on the channel.
Aaj Tak’s Krishnan is also of the same opinion. “As a credible news channel, one needs to have a stringent validation process,” he explained. He further emphasised that websites like YouTube exist in isolation and have nothing to do with TV channels. But he also believes that there will be convergence of such kind, and channels will have to rethink on their strategies.
How much do these citizen journalists get for their content is another question to be addressed. “Currently, there is no formal system for user generated content across television channels. We are in the process of putting together a monetary compensation that is at par with what we would ideally pay a stringer for a story,” said Krishnan, on the remuneration aspect of citizen journalism.
It is evident that all TV news channels are willing to embrace this new system of democratising content, but at the same time, are skeptical about choosing a complete viewer-based business model. It is certain that the audience is raising their voice to the main stream media in all possible ways, and time will tell whether companies would be able to sustain this pressure or succumb to a business format, completely in favour of the viewer-generated content.