NECN will air viewers' videos, post them on Web
Project joins other moves nationwide to 'democratize' news
New England Cable News viewers will get their own shot at becoming broadcast journalists on July 15, when the news network debuts ''Video New England," a website feature that allows viewers to upload digital video that might then be posted on the website or broadcast on the network.
''It's taking blogging to the next step," said Steven Safran, director of digital media for NECN.
The video clips that viewers send will be screened by NECN editors, who will determine which ones are suitable to be posted on the website or broadcast on the network.
Video New England joins a number of other ''citizen journalism" projects, which allow viewers to contribute content, already in development nationwide.
In April, for example, former vice president Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt unveiled Current.tv, a national network that will rely on viewer-contributed content for much of its programming.
''The goal is really to democratize content," said Anastasia Goodstein, manager of the viewer-created content portion of the network.
Many websites and newspapers are experimenting with reader-written news, including OhmyNews.com, Wikinews.org, The Denver Post, and the Rocky Mountain News.
NECN has received useful submissions from viewers before, Safran said. During a blizzard in February, a viewer shot a 15-second video clip of coastal flooding in Hull on his camera phone that ended up being used both on the website and the morning news segment.
''It was grainy. It was choppy. But it didn't matter that it wasn't broadcast quality. By letting them tell us what was going on, we got the news," Safran said.
Safran also hopes the project will bring trust back to an industry rocked by scandals that undermined news organizations' credibility.
''People have become cynical about news," Safran said. ''We're taking a beating in journalism on trust, and I think the only way to rebuild it is opening up the process and inviting people in."
Jim Thistle, director of broadcast journalism at Boston University, said NECN's project should not have problems, as long as editors keep tight control of what segments they allow to be published on the website and to be broadcast.
''It's fairly harmless," Thistle said. ''It's another step forward in using technology, as long as it's in a context that's clear about what it is."
According to NECN, Video New England will be the first project of its kind in New England.
''It's an interesting idea and one that a lot of different Internet companies and websites will look at, but the concept of having viewers send content is not new," said Maria Buckley, managing editor of TheBostonChannel.com, which is the news website of WCVB-TV, Channel 5.
Buckley said WCVB is not planning to create a similar feature but the station has asked viewers to send in photographs before.
''I can envision this becoming a vital part of the news-gathering process," Safran said.
Joe Light can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.