AMC 2007: User-Generated Content Cues: ‘Set Up the Scenario and Then Get Out of the Way’

From left: Michael Skoler, executive director, American Public Media; Ann Shoket, editor-in-chief, Seventeen; Wired News editor-in-chief Evan Hansen

“In the spirit of user-generated content, I’ve basically let my users create my presentation for me this morning,” Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket said just before screening a video submitted by one of her teen users. The clip was one part of Tuesday morning’s AMC session on “The Web, User-Generated Content, and the Future of Journalism,” with Shoket and Wired News editor-in-chief Evan Hansen, moderated by Michael Skoler, American Public Media’s executive director of its Center for Innovation in Journalism.

Reiterating conference chair Dave Zinczenko‘s oft-repeated theme, Skoler bludgeoned told the audience, “Magazines are brands and brands are relationships.” But picking on the “promiscuity” endorsed yesterday by Arianna Huffington in her afternoon session, how did Shoket wind up with 13 million teen girl “partners?”

They’re her users, and they flock to Seventeen in droves, partly for a new project launched in conjunction with “a partner who could have been a competitor” — MySpace. Together, they’re enabling teen girls to chronicle what Shoket called the “life change each of those 13 million girls is going to face:” heading off to college. Using video, social networking tools, blogs and more, Shoket’s readers can tap into “the most wild and crazy change for them.”

“It works because we have unprecedented access to our readers’ lives,” Shoket said. “If we took our best reporter and sent her to college, there’s no way she could get that kind of … texture [user-generated content yields].”

According to Hansen, “We’ve doubled down on the concept of an independent Web operation … by building a Web site on its own” and creating an editorial team to populate it “without using the magazine as a crutch.” In addition, based on the popularity of the magazine’s how-to issues, Hansen and team have tapped user-generated content by inviting “readers in to submit their own ideas, on [things like] how do you hack an iPhone or jump off a roof without killing yourself.”

In addition to indispensable lessons such as those, Hansen also touted the utility of absorbing all the information users provide more passively. “We get a tremendous amount of information out of user patterns on our site. The ‘data exhaust’ as they call it, is a tremendously powerful tool. Once we can hook this up with print pubs, this is going to take things to a whole new level.”

Shoket did acknowledge that the Web wasn’t the end-all be-all for content, saying, “I do not think the Web is best for long-form journalism. The magazine is for context, and quiet time and reflection. The Web is where users share ideas with each other; the magazine is where you give them ideas they never would have thought of on their own.”

—Rebecca L. Fox


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