“S*** the bed – that hit the ground harder than Lee Cattermole after a Tiote tackle”*: Reporting from the YouTube comments on the North East floodsPosted: July 1st, 2012 | Author: Ed Walker | Filed under: Journalism, online video | Tags: newcastle, newcastle floods, tyne bridge, tyne bridge lightning strike, ugc, user generated content, you tube | 3 Comments »
When disaster strikes, as it did on Thursday in Newcastle when two weeks worth of rain fell in one hour, there’s one easy place to turn for UGC content – YouTube.
But what about if you’re really immersing yourself in that community rather than just hitting the download and print screen button on the videos being produced there?
At 3.30pm last Thurday in Newcastle the sky darkened and the word ‘apocalyptic’ is often over-used by the media, but not in this case. An extremely rare super cell thunderstorm was building over the North East and it unleashed all its fury on Newcastle and the surrounding area, leaving myself and colleagues unable to get the train back to London. So we rolled up our sleeves, pulled on our wellies and helped the ChronicleLive team report on extraordinary scenes taking place in their patch.
Just before 5pm a shout went up as a tweets appeared linking to a YouTube video which appeared to show the Tyne Bridge being hit by lightning.
“Is it real?” is the first question asked in most cases when user-generated content is concerned. It certainly looked real but with only 300 views on YouTube (it now has a staggering 636,505 at the time of writing and 1,412 likes) anyone’s guess was as good as ours.
I jumped on the comment thread which was already building on YouTube. Now my general opinion of YouTube comments is similar to Dave Lee’s (worth reading his excellent post) BUT in this case I thought it’s worth trying to engage amongst the ‘OMFG!?’ and numerous obsceneties.
Private messaging the person who uploaded the video (who was not the same person as the guy who took the video) was the first option, leaving email address and phone number to get in touch.
But, I thought why not try posting in the comments to try and get in touch. An open post explaining I was working for ChronicleLive and leaving an office phone number paid off as around an hour later I got a call from Paul who uploaded the video.
I was able to speak to Marc who shot the video and get his reaction, verify the information and importantly seek permission to use the video itself on the Chronicle website.
We’d embedded the YouTube clip first, but felt as the video was trending we wanted permission from the user to use on our site so it could be surfaced throughout our video pages and video recommendation pages.
We also didn’t just want to rip the video and go “here’s the video of lightning striking the Tyne Bridge”, we wanted more.
We wanted to know what the sound was like, what it was like now his video was being tweeted by Cheryl Cole and appearing on numerous news broadcasts and websites around the world (very few who had appeared to ask permission or give credit).
Look here’s a world superstar tweeting a 20-year-old lad from Newcastle’s video:
— Cheryl Cole (@CherylCole) June 29, 2012
I was also able to enagage in the comments with a number of local people who were stuck in the floods, sourcing more eyewitnesses and more footage for us to use on ChronicleLive.
It showed me that appeals for information via Twitter and Facebook are good, but sometimes it’s worth putting yourself in a potentially dangerous online place (with the right precautions) to gain the information you really need and connect with your local readership.
A couple of things I learned about engaging in YouTube comments:
1. Your appeals for information will get marked as spam by other commenters, they think it’s really funny. Just keep re-posting and hope they get bored.
2. Leaving a phone number is very important, especially when a lot of those engaging are posting from smart phones.
3. You will get called a d*ck and various other things. It’s a bit like doing a vox pop in a crowd of football fans.
4. Be open and honest when commenting and say who you are and where you’re reporting for.
5. Not everyone wants money for a video. Marc and Paul just felt they wanted to share the moment that they saw with all the people who didn’t, I imagine they may start monetising the video on YouTube or be happy with increased google searches for the events company they work for – but fair play, everyone has their own motive. And ultimately, isn’t that why YouTube/Flickr started? To share something great you’ve taken with the rest of the world.
Hopefully it showed a good use by local media of sourcing a quality piece of user-generated content and providing something more that got beyond the moment lightning hit the Tyne Bridge and give the story of those who saw it…
* This comment is from a YouTube user on the lightning strike video, and won’t make much sense to you unless you follow Premier League football. In particular Newcastle United and/or Sunderland.