I-Witnessing: Global Crisis Reporting Through the Amateur Lens

This international comparative research project examines how major news organizations and their audiences are responding to the growing availability of user-generated content (with special reference to citizen produced imagery) in Finland, Sweden and the UK. This project’s focus on citizen contributions to news reporting, in particular crisis reporting, offers a distinctive vantage point to examine key aspects of the changing media environment (e.g. “participatory media culture”, “crisis of journalism”).

Questions the study is aiming to answer

The investigation will employ a comparative, multi-perspective approach to address the following research questions:

1. How do professional journalists and editors in Finland, Sweden and the UK engage with amateur images of crisis events? What strategies are being employed to gather, interpret and authenticate this material in major news organizations?

2. In what ways are amateur images of unfolding crisis events being integrated into professional news reports, and how is their journalistic significance represented? What are the perceived risks and benefits associated with the use of this material?

3. What are the similarities and differences between Swedish, Finnish and British news organizations in their use of amateur imagery? What polices are being formulated to ensure journalistic quality and editorial integrity? How do procedures differ across varied media platforms (print, broadcast and online) in these national contexts?

4. How do news audiences interpret the relative value of amateur imagery in professional crisis reporting? What are their views about its potential to shape public perceptions of different crises?

Data collection

The study offers an integrated analysis of three different dimensions of the news: 1) professional news producers 2) news texts and 3) audiences.

In methodological terms, this project will draw upon:

1. A textual and visual analysis of the news coverage of several crisis events, devoting particular attention to the use of amateur imagery and related forms of user-generated content by news organizations in Sweden, Finland the UK.

2. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with journalists and editors in the three countries. Interviewees will be selected on the basis of their experience with processing user-generated content to cover crisis events and/or role in developing related policies for their news organization.

3. Focus groups of audience members will be organized for each of the three countries. Taken together, the groups will offer a basis for identifying and examining key factors shaping audience engagement with citizen imagery, as well as perceptions regarding its import for journalism.

Research directors:

Dr. Mervi Pantti, University of Helsinki
Dr. Kari Andén-Papadopoulos, Stockholm University
Professor Stuart Allan, Bournemouth University

Contact person at the University of Helsinki:

Dr. Mervi Pantti
Lecturer and Programme Director

Minttu Tikka
+358 9 191 24759