Citizen journalism and trust in Taiwan
Friday 20 February 2015
THE FREEZE-FRAME of a plane looming over a motorway as it crashed into a river in Taipei earlier this month has become as ubiquitous as the drivers’ dashboard cameras that captured it. Such cams are popular in Taiwan and many other countries, where ordinary citizen drivers perhaps want a silent witness to their everyday travails in traffic.
The viral image highlights the sheer availability of user-generated content (UGC). Not only has ‘everyone’ for some time had a powerful video camera in their pocket, now cameras are atop bike helmets as well as dashboards, in drones bought as easily as toys, and soon perhaps we’ll all be wearing them, constantly recording.
But has the saturation of UGC improved people’s engagement with and trust of their public media? Not necessarily. For starters – UGC is not citizen journalism. Handing over raw footage, stills or audio to a media organisation is often a one-way transaction. Citizen journalism implies the member of public is much more involved: generating, contextualising and verifying the story. This needs training. And that’s where Public TV Service Taiwan’s PeoPo project stands out.
Launched in 2007, the project now has over 8,000 citizen journalists who have registered and signed up to an ethical code of conduct. Once signed up they can choose what to contribute their own news reports without censorship. The CJs attend training workshops and improve their skills through dozens of online videos.
The Public TV Service has undertaken and maintained such a project simply to improve public trust in the country’s media. As Chili Yu, supervisor of PeoPo puts it: “Unlike commercial media, public service broadcasting’s duty and responsibility is to empower our citizens. We are very honoured to carry on the mission in Taiwan.”
The broadcaster airs a five-minute programme of PeoPo reports daily, with at least four whole reports in the weekend, and two every evening. Some stories are picked up by the mainstream Taiwanese press, such as that of citizen journalist ‘Zhou’ who is a retired pilot.
Zhou filed the story of his co-pilot Wang-feng, who had spent the equivalent of US$30,000 of his own money in two years rescuing stray dogs. The tale cast a spotlight on the state policy of culling stray dogs, questioning its cost and ethics. The story was picked up by national tabloid and TV channel Apple Daily.
The project has had to move with the times since its launch eight years ago – an eternity in tech and social media. Chili Yu says the growth of social media has held PeoPo back in some ways, as users now have an array of choice for larger platforms to post their stories: “[But] the difference between the social media and PeoPo is very obvious. However, we still have to frequently explain the differences to our users.”
Referrals to PeoPo from social media now stand at 40%And if you can’t beat them, join them. PeoPo was redesigned to better integrate social media sharing and commenting through the likes of Facebook and Line (one of the biggest mobile messaging apps in Asia). Referrals to PeoPo from social media now stand at 40%. The platform is adapting to mobile use, as half of all users are now using a mobile device to access PeoPo.
Much of the project’s success and traction may be down to a completely different meaning of the term ‘social media’. PeoPo’s citizen journalists get together. Gatherings are organised for them to meet NGOs to report on local issues. And there are ongoing opportunities for the CJs to sharpen their skills in workshops, for instance in news video-making.
Should other public service broadcasters be interested in this model? “If the main purpose of the citizen journalism programme is to gain news footage from CJs,” says Chili Yu, “[they] will be greatly disappointed.” He maintains it’s about building trust between the platform and the potential CJs. And it takes substantial commitment on the media organisation’s part. “You have to support them patiently by continually providing training, including how to use the platform interface, how to gather news, edit video. . . everything, step by step.”
A long journey perhaps, but one in the right direction in terms of public engagement.
Original Coverage: Citizen Journalism and Trust in Taiwan (by public media alliance)
Know more about PeoPo