Innovative journalist's daily Mobile Blog page puts readers' photographic perspectives in print

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 February, 2009, 12:00am

Huang Yuzhi, 31, is an editor of 'Mobile Blog', a new project at the Guangzhou-based New Express. It is the city's first reader-generated photo page in a daily newspaper. He talks about his job and the role editors play in the digital era.

What is Mobile Blog?

It's a page that we launched on January 1 in our daily paper. In it, we publish photos taken by readers on their mobile phones. It is the first page of this kind in Guangzhou, and as far as we know, maybe one of only a few on the mainland.

How did the idea get started, and what are the basics?

In 2007, we launched a channel on our website called 'Everyone Can Be a Reporter'.

It is like an online chat room in which the readers can paste the news sources they know. Later on, we thought it would be better to have a closer connection with readers by publishing their work in the newspaper.

We accept only photos taken with mobile phones because it is easy for readers to take such photos and we can track down the sender via their mobile number, which can prevent fake photos.

We also give up to 100 yuan each to about eight readers whose photos we use in the paper. We do not pay cash but pay it into their mobile phone account. The readers do not need to waste time coming to our office to pick up the money.

What was the biggest obstacle to the project?

There were two major obstacles to running the page. First, we had to overcome technical difficulties. We had planned to use special equipment to manage the photos more efficiently, but we could not do that because we did not have a qualified technician or the budget to hire one. By December, we gave up on the idea of using the equipment and decided to use the most traditional and the simplest way to collect mobile photos: we asked readers to send the photos directly to a newsroom mobile and e-mail account.

Second, we had no idea of what the new page would look like and how the readers would react to it. Would we have enough photos for the daily paper? I told our deputy editor-in-chief that if we did not have enough photos, I could go out in the morning and take some myself.

Is there any big difference between your current and previous duties?

Yes, the workflow has completely changed.

I was a domestic news editor for three years. Every day I dealt only with wires, other media and the reporters in our newsroom. But now I need to work with maybe tens of thousands of unknown 'reporters'. I need to figure out what kind of photos they like most, how we can encourage more readers to send us photos and how we can use the best photos every day.

Meanwhile, my work day is three hours longer. When I was local news editor, I usually went to work at 4pm. But now I have to check the photos in the early afternoon in case there is not enough time to edit the photos that readers send in 24 hours a day.

How many photos do you receive every day?

We have had more than 100 photos a day. And now the average is about 70 per day.

Is there any standard you follow when choosing the photos?

I prefer the photos that focus on community news. But we do not have enough resources to cover people's ordinary lives. So I would like to use the photos that bring a variety of angles to covering 'soft news', such as the reconstruction of an old building and the interesting photos of children's lives. But I have never told the readers what I want from them. I think it's better not to have restrictions.

Do you think you are merging 'citizen journalism' with the traditional newsroom?

I do not think a reader-generated photo page equals citizen journalism. Basically, we do not need readers to cover breaking news. We do not want readers to play a watchdog role. When we get any photos related to social issues or events involving conflict, we will send reporters to do interviews and follow up on the information. It would be a risk to run stories or to publish photos of breaking news without experienced journalists first checking the information.

What will you do next with Mobile Blog?

I hope to meet readers who send us photos. If we have the money and time to spare, I would like to organise training courses for readers interested in becoming part-time reporters.

Technology is providing readers with more tools, such as mobiles and computers, to cover the events only they can reach. Our editor needs to find new ways to bring these advantages into play.