If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, How Much Are A Thousand Pictures Worth?

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Ready or not, it's becoming increasingly clear that mainstream news outlets are going to have to find a way to deal with user-generated content. But now they have some good news: According to one new study, such organizations are well-position to take advantage of the fast-growing trend. Here's how Reuters sums up the study (hat tip to I Want Media):
The phenomenon of consumers contributing their own photographs, video and blogs took the media industry by storm in 2006 through Web sites such as YouTube and according to a report by consultancy Deloitte on media trends for 2007, that is unlikely to change.

The trend prompted headlines that the traditional media was losing sway with the consumer but Howard Davies, a director of media strategy at Deloitte, said print and TV had been wise to stand back and see how the practice developed.

"(They) are very well positioned to adopt some of the technology and some of the emerging social practice ... but incorporating it alongside traditional media channels to create an overall richer product," he told Reuters.

It's an issue we've explored in-depth here at Public Eye and we've attempted to raise questions about how such images and video will be used. I couldn't help but think about the enormous possibilities and challenges involved with this new YouTube world while on vacation last week. Joining tens of thousands of revelers at Disney World, I was struck by the fact that almost every one of them carried a "media" device of some sort – digital video cameras, digital still cameras and camera phones were everywhere.

If any "news" had broken out at the Magic Kingdom on New Year's Eve, there likely would have been hundreds of thousands of images captured which could have potential value to any news organization. But would they be prepared to deal with the sheer volume they may receive and to make deadline judgments about the reliability and validity of the material? If even a fraction of all those pictures made it to any one organization, it would require some serious manpower to sort through them all, let alone make an effort to verify authenticity. Doctored photos usually take some time to surface , but when they do, they can be pretty convincing (remember the 9/11 tourist guy?).

For now, most new organizations soliciting user-generated content have walled it all off from content of their own. But it's only a matter of time before genuine "news" material submitted by non-professionals makes it into the actual news stories. Organizations should be thinking long and hard about just how they will use those kinds of images.