Guardian Witness and Thatcher’s funeral: how did it do?

A screenshot of Guardian Witness
A screenshot of Guardian Witness

Lady Thatcher’s funeral today was the first big test for Guardian Witness, the Guardian’s app for users to contribute their own content to Guardian stories, galleries, live blogs and other content. Joanna Geary introduced the app in a blog post yesterday and discussed it further with Adam Tinworth (a tutor of mine). Below the line of her blog post, a fair few Guardian readers were unhappy yesterday about the idea of unpaid contributors passing photos or text for the Guardian to use.

Very cool for journalists not so for the contributors. Brilliant Idea to lighten the workload and enrich the story, shame the contributors wouldn’t gain anything out of it. Velo Rapid

Is this but a cynical move on behalf the Guardian and yet another step closer towards journalism as a collage of low quality images, opinion, ‘tweets’ and various other weak and questionable sources, that ultimately adds up to very little? LaNausea

I notice there’s no answer yet to the questions about whether contributors will be paid.

Which leads me to conclude that under all the shiny packaging this is just a way of ripping people off. A pretty disgraceful position for the Guardian of all papers to be in. YorkshireCat

Remember, it’s voluntary

These contributors were missing the point that Guardian Witness is voluntary. If you don’t want to share your video or story, you don’t have to, as Joanna Geary and Hannah Waldram explained in the comments.  Ms. Geary also pointed out that there were plenty of (unpaid) ways to get in touch with the Guardian before Witness. You were never paid to ring up the news desk with a tip-off.

When you think about it, that makes eminent sense. Social media users already share a huge amount online anyway. We share our opinions (and we have a lot of them), photos, videos and locations. Much of this has journalistic value. All the Guardian is doing is asking for it, creating an easier way to submit it and providing users with a way to exert some form of editorial control.

Straight to CMS

The content goes straight into the Guardian’s CMS, subject to verification from Guardian staffers. That is fast and useful for fast-moving events.


The iOS app has been designed for iPhones rather than iPad. Opening the app on iPad presents a iPhone sized app on the iPad’s screen. Mobile-first makes sense because the content contributors will submit is likely to be taken on mobile, such as out and about at a protest.

The first test

So how did it do during Lady Thatcher’s funeral? The “assignment” had 32 contributions at last count, mostly good-quality photos from a variety of different locations in London. Some were embedded in the Guardian’s live blog of the funeral. I would say that’s a decent start, but no doubt if a similarly big story occurred in a year’s time I’m sure the Guardian would like multiples of that number of contributions.

Concluding remark

One final point: I’m glad the Guardian got sponsorship for Witness from EE. Sponsored sections of a website have the potential to generate more revenue than banner ads and I’d like to see more of that.

[Update 21:00: Joanna Geary tweeted me to say that it’s more accurate to say that EE paid for the development of Guardian Witness, not sponsoring it as such]


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