Five years on from the 7 July bombings in London, Matthew Eltringham from the BBC College of Journalism remembers the day that sparked the future of user-generated content.
[W]e ‘stuck a postform’ on the first take of the News website’s story and waited to see what would come in. Within minutes our email inbox was out of control – it was clear that something was happening, but we had no idea how to manage the huge number of emails we were receiving and the information they were giving us.
By the end of the day we had received several hundred images and videos along with several thousand emails. It was only with hindsight that we were able to make sense of them and the impact they were likely to have on our journalism.
Since then, the UGC project has grown to a team of more than 20 people, working around the clock and developing “an incredibly sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the ‘who, what, when, where and whys’ of ‘social newsgathering’ or put another way, ‘finding good stuff on the web’.”
There have been many lessons along the way too, leading the BBC to ruthlessly check every piece of user content which gets sent their way.
We always check out each and every image, video or key contact before we broadcast them, to make sure they are genuine and to resolve any copyright issues. When it’s impossible to do that – such as with content sent from Iran or Burma, when contacting the contributors is very hard to do or might put them in danger, we interrogate the images, using BBC colleagues who know the area and the story to help identify them.