Today, I read Dan Kennedy blast media companies for apparently trying to rip off people who contribute UGC. I watched a very interesting video about Web 2.0. And I read Marc Glaser’s report on We Media.
There’s a book end of attitudes about big media companies and distributed media. On one end is the suggestion that MSM’s only interest in UGC is as free content, and on the other end, the meme that MSM is just big, dumb media that somehow stands apart from social media instead of a part of we media.
Glaser’s report indicates that many of the participates in We Media do in fact see UGC as a ticket to “taking back control” of the means and methods of publication, but that doesn’t mean MSM publisher is looking for UGC as a way to save costs on content production.
Take Bakersfield.com, for example. Visit and invest some time to dig into the community building effort there. Adding that functionality wasn’t cheap, but more importantly, there is a real effort there to build community, not just generate free content. TBC does actively solicit user-submitted news and feature articles for the web and print editions, but most of the UGC that comes in through Bakersfield.com is never even surfaced in any meaningful way. It survives purely as part of conversation, not content aimed at replacing paid staff. In fact, TBC has three or four people on staff just to handle the load of all that UGC.
Is that cheaping out on free content?
To do UGC right is far from cheap. It takes good people and good software.
Look at this post from Amy Gahran about YourHub, if you don’t believe me. YourHub Denver now employs a staff of 25 people, or so. Granted, many of them produce staff content to supplement the UGC, not just manage it, but without that effort, there would be less UGC.
Kennedy isn’t the first media pundit to put forth the meme that media companies are just exploiting contributors with UGC efforts, but the attitude ignores one important fact: If people didn’t get something out of their contributions, they wouldn’t write, shoot and submit. Not all compensation is monetary. MSM companies that make available a distribution channel for UGC assume the financial risk associated with the effort (a risk not shared by contributors), and provide a valuable service to contributors looking to reach a wider audience than might be available to a solo act. Yes, MSM getting into UGC are hoping that the effort will generate audience, and hence revenue, but it’s a complete misunderstanding of the economics of the matter to say the whole process is just a rip off. You’ve got to start some place, and maybe some day UGC will generate sufficient revenue to justify monetary compensation for contributors, but for most newspapers still incubating UGC, that just isn’t possible right now.
Of course, I’m one of those corporate MSM guys who believes in UGC, so you might think I have a conflict of interest here.
Here’s the thing though: As I watched the Web 2.0 video, I revisited a thought: “We are the media.” And by We, I don’t just mean the so-called citizens of citizen journalism. We also includes the MSM. Like it or not, every MSM outlet is part of the conversation. Some are reluctant or even resistant contributors to the conversation, but every report in MSM is ripe for citizens to expand on, comment on or react to.
Those of us who work on the MSM side of the conversation also believe that in building the means of participation we aren’t just looking for free content — we believe in the conversation. That should mean something.