We are AP Social Media Editors Fergus Bell (fergbell) and Eric Carvin (ecarvin). The AP has established strict standards about verifying content we get from non-professional journalists that makes it into the AP report. We have also implemented a policy to only run user-generated content (UGC) when we have permission from the creator and to credit those people whenever it is possible to do so. What standards do you think are important when reporting using user-generated content? Should people always be credited? How far do you trust amateur videos or photos when you see them in the news?

Ask us anything about UGC at the AP. Hopefully you don’t mind if we also ask you a few questions back.

PROOF for Fergus: Twitter @fergb + http://apne.ws/11b5IvK PROOF for Eric: Twitter @ericcarvin + http://apne.ws/11bIRGv

EDIT With so many questions we are going to extend this for another half hour until 1730 GMT/1.30p EDT. Thanks for your patience, we will try to answer as many as we can.

EDIT Thanks to everyone who asked us questions today and we are really sorry we didn't get to all of them. We would love to do this again sometime to continue the conversation. AP has been without its social media editors for more than two and a half hours now and we need to get back to our respective newsrooms. Thanks Reddit!

Comments: 151 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

tasari19 karma

Do you think it's possible for news organizations to effectively use Reddit?

ecarvin30 karma

Absolutely. It can be a very powerful newsgathering tool, because a) primary source material (as opposed to links to existing stories) is often posted there, and b) many reddit users have an incredible knowledge base on their particular areas of interest, making them potentially powerful sources. Also, honestly, a lot of mainstream journalists still aren’t really paying attention to reddit, so if you do, you can give yourself a real competitive advantage.

Of course, tips we find on reddit need to be treated as just that -- tips. They need to be carefully reported out. For example, some bad information related to the Boston bombings obviously got a lot of eyeballs on reddit, but as journalists, we were wise to be watching to see if any useful information emerged.

No-Im-Not-Serious3 karma

Would you say the same thing about 4chan? Do you ever monitor reddit or 4chan threads during breaking news events?

fergbell6 karma

I think all of these platforms where people are sharing newsworthy information are important. As a journalist I would always want to be finding the places where people are talking about breaking news. As Eric said, we have a lot of information coming to us from many places on any breaking news story and everything is processed by fact checking using our established procedures. That might be Reddit, but it might be a phone call or an email.

dougfunnie0213 karma


fergbell17 karma

I was a producer for AP Television News. I started getting into this new social media thing because I thought it looked interesting and I'm a bit of a geek. Then the protests in Egypt happened and I started putting what I had learnt into practice for newsgathering. Those skills only became more valuable and now it is my full time job.

Digital_Nicole5 karma

My understanding is legally you can use UGC that is publicly posted without permission. Why the policy to only run when you have permission? Any circumstances when you might break your own rule?

fergbell10 karma

It really depends where UGC is uploaded. Many platforms have different policies regarding content ownership. In many cases though copyright is retained by the person who captured the content and uploaded it. We just think it is right to ask someone for permission to use their content and so that is what we strive to do. Beyond the issue of ownership and copyright it is also important for us to identify an original source as part of our verification. Making contact with that person allows us to get further information and evaluate the authenticity.

Digital_Nicole2 karma

We mostly deal with Twitter and Facebook. Do you ask them on the social media platform or do you ask them to contact you offline?

fergbell5 karma

It really depends on the method that is quickest for getting hold of them. We always prefer to speak to someone on the phone. That is the ultimate goal.

GrantYoungH3 karma

Does the AP still use and see to continue the use of paid or in house photographers or are you going to use only UGC as technology and publications begin that route? I hope AP will always have a place in feeding the professionals and not lowering quality to UGC only.

fergbell3 karma

The AP absolutely still uses staff photographers to cover news. The most compelling UGC comes from someone who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, capturing something that couldn't be created any other way. Sometimes people with cell phones are on the scene as a story breaks and so have the first images, and it might take a while to send someone to the location. We don’t use it as a replacement but it is important to understand how this material can add to our storytelling and allow us to work quickly and accurately.

leops19843 karma

When you're taking UGC from countries where the government... might not approve, what will you do to protect the names, identities, etcetera of anyone seen?

fergbell4 karma

There are going to be cases like this when it wouldn't be responsible for us to name sources of UGC publicly. We always make an assessment of whether it would be safe for us to do so. However, when we are asked to withhold a name it is important that we still know the source of that content so that we can run it through our verification process. The decision also involves senior editors at the AP.

ivanlajara3 karma


fergbell8 karma

Hello DOG. Didn't realize you were on Reddit.

da_asparagus2 karma

First off, thank you both for doing this AMA. I feel like you guys giving credit to the creator of UGC is great and it still keeps up with ethical journalism and identifying sources. It's always good (and should be necessary) to give credit where credit is due.

As far as amateur videos and photos go, I do trust them if they come from a significant event (Boston Marathon events, Oklahoma tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy, etc.) and the source looks to be legitimate.

What do you guys (and other people at the AP who deal with UGC) do to fact check and see if the story/details of the story are accurate? Or is there really a way to do so?

Where do you guys get the UGC that the AP uses in its various platforms? Does it get sent to you by your sources or do you guys find it on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr and ask for permission to use it?

fergbell2 karma

Well, when we identify something we will run it through the person in the AP who is the expert on that story. So for Sandy everything that we ran went through staff in New York – they knew all of the locations and they were also doing their own reporting and fact checking so we could see that things matched up. The same for Boston and the bombing that happened in Oslo. We have people in so many places that we used them to help verify. We treat any of the information that we access from outside the AP in the same way and if we are not satisfied we won’t run it or report it. In terms of where we get UGC it depends on the event. Some stuff is sent to us, some we find and reach out to those individuals.

Captain_Freud2 karma

If UGC is on the rise, is there less need for dedicated staff? In other words, how do I convince you to hire me?

fergbell1 karma

UGC is definitely on the rise and there need to be people who know how to deal with it in the news industry. At the AP we are taking the approach that everyone will someday have to work with it and so we encourage people to learn as much as they can, we also offer training to help that.

If you want a job I’m afraid I’m not the one you need to convince! But if you arm yourself with a good understanding of standards and best practice when it comes to UGC you’ll be in the best position possible.

Real_Live_Girl1 karma

What are your thoughts on the impact of UGC when reporting on war? In your opinion has the increase in UGC as well as much easier access to information had any dramatic impacts on the way that war is presented throughout the media?

fergbell5 karma

UGC has certainly had a massive impact on the way we have been able to report war - Syria is a prime example of that. For many months UGC was the only way we were able to visually illustrate the situation in Syria because the movement of journalists was restricted, and still is. We still had to verify all of that material as well so we had to learn how to meet the challenges of not having our own people on the ground. The increase in UGC has made it easier to access information quickly and straight from people witnessing it, but as I said it has also given us new challenges in terms of how we report it.

No-Im-Not-Serious1 karma

How many of you work in a cubicle and how many have an office (out of the participants in this thread)?

fergbell3 karma

I work in the middle of AP's London newsroom. Not in a cubicle or office.

regalrecaller0 karma

Seems like an office to me...

fergbell3 karma

Oh, I thought the question was about a private office. Yeah, I guess it is an office then. Sorry!

OriginalContentz1 karma

How much/what kind of scrutiny is used on UGC videos to determine whether or not the video has any CG or other kinds of manipulation?

fergbell2 karma

All UGC is intensely scrutinized. Our process is twofold: First we verify a source and then we independently verify the authenticity of that content by doing our own investigation. Part of that second process does involve assessing whether something has been manipulated and there are tools out there for checking manipulation, however the best verification comes from checking the basics, like who uploaded it, where it was uploaded and what they can tell us about the event when we talk to them. We are fortunate because we have staff all over the world. If we need to do something like check a location we call them up; they may have actually been there.

cuewittyname1 karma

When you use UGC, do you pay the creator for usage? If so, how do you go about doing so? Are they treated like a freelancer over an AP staff (or however you designate someone who works for AP full time)?

fergbell4 karma

We treat UGC like all video and photos at the AP. Sometimes that means we pay for it, but sometimes people share it with us just because they want to contribute to the story. In all my time doing this I have never seen that money is the main motivation for people sharing this stuff with those watching, including journalists like me. If we are paying someone then everything has to be official with release forms etc. We have been working with content from third parties for years so we have pretty quick systems for these arrangements.

MethLab1 karma

Seems to me that "verifying content we get from non-professional journalists that makes it into the AP report." would be near impossible.

How can you verify the validity of a tweet, from someone who is tweeting from a dangerous or remote location? If you did wait for verification, you would not be able to run stories as fast as you do.

fergbell2 karma

There are definitely ways to verify tweets from people who are sharing from dangerous locations. What people have previously tweeted can give a massive amount of insight. We can also cross reference what they are saying with other sources of information. When we can, we will also ask them about what they have witnessed, although we have recently published guidelines for this very situation so that we consider their safety at all times.

Yes it can take a long time to verify sometimes but we think it is worth spending that time getting it right, rather than report it incorrectly.