With close to a billion mobile phone users in China, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post is using its unique position to explain UGC to readers.
Video director Mat Booth says the publisher decided to stake a claim on the enormous pool of user-generated content coming out of China.
“With 2020 figures showing 847 million mobile internet users in China and the explosion in popularity of video apps like Kuaishou and Douyin, much of life in China is recorded and uploaded,” he says in an INMA blog post.
“We decided to make it part of our offering to translate this digital existence to an English-speaking audience while offering context and background to the issues we see.”
The initiative is one of several that drives SCMP’s mission to “lead the global conversation” on China.
Booth says the “often amusing, sometimes heartbreaking and always revealing” videos from within China have become one of the most important strands of content, with a very substantial viewership particularly in the US.
He says UGC has come a long way from its days of cat videos and exploding whales, and is now coveted as one of the most important primary sources of news video.
“User-generated content allows South China Morning Post to cover more stories quickly, even when its reporters are not on the ground,” he says.
Obstacles of quick access and iron-clad verification have been overcome, and specialist services such as Storyful have been joined by others.
“The SCMP holds accuracy sacrosanct and always authenticates data and material used in stories,” says Booth. “Third-party material and information are gathered from respected publications and organisations, and double-checked.”
With these clearing houses now gathering, sourcing and verifying material, the publisher’s video journalists can focus more on writing and editing the story rather than spending most of their time tracking down footage. Agencies also allow UGC creators to be easily reimbursed through a recognised system.
Booth says while SCMP still tries to source video themselves – “it’s always good to have exclusive footage” – it wouldn’t be able to come close to sourcing the amount of video that partners are able to provide. “Hundreds of clips of UGC content are made available every day, and we have seen huge success across our distribution networks by taking advantage of it.”
UGC’s “enormous impact” during the pandemic – and the sense of social isolation – has driven demand for real-time footage, with the story inside locked-down Wuhan a key example.
With availability and quality of UGC rising, Booth says its importance and visibility within newsrooms and video teams is set to expand within those teams willing to embrace its many strengths.