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News you can lose

The TV news move to co-opt You Tube continues. News To Me, the CNN Headline News show built around viewers' videos, debuted earlier this month. Next up: i-Caught, which kicks off a six-episode trial run on ABC Aug. 6. Like News To Me, it will have an associated website where viewers can submit their videos for consideration.

Another similarity to News To Me: The video will be edited and packaged by ABC producers and reporters, who will flesh it out into real stories with depth, continuity and background. I'm sure the mainstream-media-is-a-fascist-monopoly crowd will sneer that this defeats the whole point of user-generated content. But if you've watched News To Me, you know what a dreadful mistake that would be. The debut episode featured the story of a passenger who had to be rescued from a sinking cruise ship. His video consisted mostly of shots of people's feet, the soundtrack an differentiated garble of voices. Without CNN's reworking (which included an interview with the passenger himself, explaining when the video was shot and what it showed) it would have been unwatchable, as anybody who's ever been subjected to an evening of a friend's home movies well knows.

User-generated content is the latest big media fad, not just on television but at newspapers too. (The Miami Herald is dabbling in it, too, our management just having moved on from Hula-Hoops and Pet Rocks.) Putting the experiences of readers and/or viewers has always been part of journalism -- what is a news story but a collection of eyewitness accounts from people who are themselves news consumers? -- and the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and digital recorders has made that especially useful to television. But in the end, use-generated content is likely to remain a sideshow, a complement to the work of journalists rather than a replacement for it. When people go out to a restaurant, they don't want to cook their own dinners, or eat something whipped up by a random guy at the next table. They want food skillfully prepared by a professional chef, with training and experience. Ultimately, newspaper readers and television viewers won't settle for anything less when it comes to news, all the sloganeering from media-bashers to the contrary.


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