Participation and User Created Content – The Demolition of Traditional News Media

The most important element of any social media platform is the community; they drive the interactions that transform a static platform into a thriving hub of communication. Traditional media and entertainment, conversely, presents a linear delivery of entertainment. As the two begin to blend together in the modern world, simply presenting information for consumption is not enough, and traditional media has struggled to adapt. Spawning out of this collision is a new breed of journalist.

Let’s first look at traditional media’s presentation of information through the lens of news media to show how interactivity has evolved. Newspapers have a very linear interaction scale – traditionally a very tightly controlled and moderated Letters To The Editor section. Even in the modern age, where newspapers have moved online such as The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail, the homepage is a static, scrollable affair. The information is presented to you, but you are not invited to take part. Reddit, meanwhile, is not a news site – it is a peer endorsed communications hub. A vibrant space for the sharing of ideas. However a whopping 62% of Reddits users use it as a news source. [1] To put that in perspective, only about half of Facebook’s users cite it as one they use as a news source. Now, Reddit has a lower total usage, so the total number of users is far less, but the proportion is fascinating. The conclusion is simple; people trust Reddit for their news. In trusting Reddit, they are trusting each other.

CNN’s Reliable Sources television show (similar to ABC’s Media Watch), while generally refusing to endorse Reddit as a credible news source, has certainly endorsed it as a faster news source. Lauren Ashton discusses the Boston Bomber as a case in point. Reddit and Twitter users knew the movements of Dzhokar Tsarnaev before the news reported it. [2] The very first report of the Boston Bombing was actually this simple tweet [3]:


Here we can see a particularly energetic Reddit user defending that point of view [4]:


While ‘LittleIslandGirlNFLD’ may be slightly hyperbolic, she has a point that is agreed on by even Richard Sambrook, head of the BBC Global News Division:

News organisations don’t own the news anymore. There is a transformation for the journalist from being the gatekeeper of information to sharing it in a public space. Therefore citizen journalism is something. [5]

It comes down to ownership. When LittleIslandGirlNFLD states that ‘me (and thousands of others) turned to Reddit’ – she is owning her own information dissemination. While Sambrook may assert that information is not journalism [5] in and of itself, users in a network hub communicating with people they trust, it may as well be the same thing.

So why does news engage us so highly on sites like Reddit? I posit that it is because we trust fellows users – just like us – more than we trust publications that may normally be seen as high-end, or lofty. News as delivered by Reddit is peer-to-peer, it is User Created Content. It is created and developed by users for other users. This nestles into Brun’s theory of produsage – that the audience is no longer passive but distinctly active. [6] In terms of news distribution, produsage reflects perfectly Sambrook’s lament: We own the news. A user is stimulated to trust @DeLo_77 because they are just like you and me. And that is precisely why they are engaging.

Let’s look at a popular form of amateur produsage news-making: Dashcam videos. Dashcams are little video cameras, normally a GoPro, that people place on their car dash to capture their movements. Originally the realm of police officers and people particularly concerned over insurance based car accidents, regular people are finding that their Dashcams are capturing incredible things. Leah Schafer, while talking about the digital prevalence of “Cat Videos”, but I think it is perfectly applicable for dashcam videos, says that these videos represent “live’ events, they are mostly shot by ‘amateurs’ with access to emerging technologies, and they dramatize the familiar.” [7] Many of them are particularly depressing, including a policeman captured shooting an unarmed black man 5 times in the back, [8] or below, a Taiwanese plane crash over a freeway:


Again, we own the news, and now we have the ability to interact with and distribute it. But we trust dashcam videos because they are observation. Bill Nichol’s describes home movies as “a noninterventionist documentary, where form and style yields to the profilmic event.” [10] This means that the central event – the news-worthy event – takes centre stage in the video. You can’t miss the giant hulking plane soaring over the freeway. It is not hindered by voice-over or analysis, or ad breaks. We therefore interpret amateur created content as more real than professionally distributed news. It is more believable. While Jean Berger talks about creative enterprises utilising the produsage model, where amateurs may create in a sphere previously dominated by professionals, the proliferation of dashcam news content I think pushes Berger’s theories into the journalistic sphere.

More to the point – amateur news content provides a blank canvas for us to impart our own moral ideals over. Stewart Hall. By what we choose to upload as news on social sharing sites, such as Reddit or Twitter, it shows what we choose to endorse as valuable. Amateurs sharing the news do not so much value the inherent content of the news they post, but rather the value is in their place as a “public voice that sidesteps the constraints of traditional media and as an illustration of freedom of expression.” [11] Influential sharers also influence this freedom of expression. In choosing what news we share, we have the ability to impart our moral codes as an influential sharer upon our networks.


Take a look a shareable video of racial abuse on public transport. The filmer, or the produsage journalist as I contend, is imparting their moral injustice at the viewer. Even the title imparts a journalistic bias not inherent in traditional media: “Crazy Racist on Perth Train”. An influential sharer has imparted their views. They’ve created their own content to share directly with peers that share their own moral ideology and taken ownership over the near-live transmission of events through amateur recordings. Stewart Hall may reflect on that process of us decoding news media and encoding it with our own views. That’s all the ingredients of a new social media warrior – the user-journalist.

In terms of my campaign, live arts publicity, the produser replaces the need for traditional media. Instead of sending out press releases and trying to achieve coverage by creating news stories in the traditional marketing sense, we let our users create stories through their own experiences. This has a greater trickle effect on publicity as it is targeting closely to user and region-specific. Ie. Instead of forcing people to read about an experience, they’re sharing their experiences instead.

Social media help brings many of life’s formerly lofty and exclusive roles back down to our doorstep. We can this in action with UCC and produsage in regards to the modern news. Through high numbers of society now accessing their news through social media sites, and the proliferation of amateur news content holding the values of being both fast and believable, social media is transcending its status as an unreliable news source. I believe in the next few years it will dominate news usage, and continue to inform a large portion of society. The future of news is in the amateur, not the professional.


[1] Holcomb, J, Gottfried, J & Mitchell, M. 2013. News Use Across Social Media Platforms, The Pew Research Centre (online), available: http://www.journalism.org/2013/11/14/news-use-across-social-media-platforms/

[2] Ashton, L. 2013. Reliable Sources, CNN

[3] @DeLo_77, 16 April 2013, Uhh Explosions in Boston, Twitter

[4] ‘LittleIslandGirlNFLD’, 2013. CNN Reporter States “Reddit Not A Reliable News Source”, Reddit (online), available: https://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/1csxi6/cnn_reporter_states_reddit_not_a_reliable_news/

[5] Brunz, M. 2009. How Social Networking is Changing Journalism, The Guardian, London

[6] Brun, A. 2009.

[7] Shafer, L. 2012. I Can Haz Internet Aesthetic?!? LOLCats and the Digital Marketplace, NEPCA Conference Paper

[8] Bertrand, N. 2015. Police Dash Cam Video Shows Cop Shooting and Paralysing Unarmed Man, Business Insider (online), available: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/police-dash-cam-video-shows-cop-shooting-and-paralyzing-unarmed-man-2015-4

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5w8jHm4sUg

[10] O’Meara, R. 2014. Do Cats Know They Rule YouTube? Surveillance and the Pleasures of Cat Videos, M/C Journal Vol. 17

[11] Rintel, S. 2013. The importance of templatability to Internet culure and freedom of expression, Australian Journal of Popular Culture, Vol 2. No. 2.

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTlshcoDcIQ


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