Guidelines for User-Generated Content


Technological and media advances have allowed almost anyone to carry the tools of the broadcast media with them everyday. Cell phone video, digital cameras, and wireless communication give everyone the potential of being a spot news correspondent from time to time.


News managers are often anxious to air content contributed by the viewers and listeners on their television and radio newscasts, or publish it on their web pages. It can add depth and impact to spot news and other coverage. But managers are wise to be cautious in the content they accept and to ask some important questions about the origins and intent of the contributed content.


RTDNA suggests the following questions be asked before airing or publishing user-generated content:

  • Is the content newsworthy? Managers should consider whether they are using video or audio just because they have it, or if it has an editorial purpose in the newscasts or on the web page.
  • What is the motive for the submission? Has it been submitted by someone wishing to share important or interesting content, or does it come with an agenda? If managers determine the content has an agenda (such as video of a politician which would cause him embarrassment), will you reveal that motive for submission? Will you identify the person who submitted it?
  • Will the newsroom pay for user-generated content? Many newsrooms have a policy about paying sources for information. Some may already have policies in place regarding paying for video. Managers should review any existing policies or determine if they need to write specific a policy regarding payment for user-generated video.
  • Is what appears in the video or audio staged? Could someone have faked what appears on the content in hopes of having it aired or published? Managers should exercise great care, since this content has not been produced through an editorial chain under their review and control. What safeguards do managers have in place to determine the authenticity of submitted content?
  • Will airing or publishing the content produce instances of “copycat” behavior? Will the fleeting fame of having video or audio broadcast or published push others to produce similar content? Does the content depict actions by people who were intoxicated or otherwise not in control of themselves? Managers should decide how they will handle such submissions.
  • Does the content invade someone’s reasonable expectations of privacy? Professional video and audio equipment is often readily obvious to those being recorded. New technology can be more easily concealed. Managers should consider whether content that appears to have been obtained surreptitiously meets the same standards as hidden camera or microphone work done by regular newsroom staff. State laws regarding the broadcast of surreptitious recordings will apply regardless of who recorded the content.
  • Is the content technically airworthy? Will viewers or listeners have to strain to make out what is going on? Managers should review the newsworthiness of content to determine what technical measures of airworthiness can be ignored for important user generated content.
  • Are there instances of content you would use on your website, but not air? Because newscast audio and video is still delivered in a linear fashion outside of the control of audience members, managers should consider whether some user generated content is appropriate there, or would be more appropriate on-line where users can choose what they do or do not see or hear.
  • Who is served by airing the content? Managers should explore how user-generated content serves audience and public interests.