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A Collective Documentary? A case study of audio-visual UGC surrounding the Christchurch earthquakes

This thesis centres upon the study of the audio-visual user-generated content (UGC) relating to the series of earthquakes between September 2010 and January 2012 in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The analysis of 200 user-generated videos, largely from YouTube, reveals clear distinctions between the key patterns of eyewitness footage, conversational or explanatory pieces, recombinant works, and professional content re-uploaded by users. These broad patterns include generally low quality images across all ‘types’ of UGC, the rapid upload of content after a major earthquake which results in a steady decline of uploads over time, and key pieces of what could be termed ‘raw’ footage that was easily appropriated by traditional news organisations (footage which then circulated local and global news networks). However, absent from this collection of material is any attempts made by users to recombine such raw footage into a coherent narrative, therefore the only material on YouTube that provides contextual information is that of re-recorded televised news broadcasts that have been re-uploaded to the platform by users. Though the indexical qualities of this UGC and how they have the potential to form a type of ‘documentary narrative’ utilising YouTube as the key facilitator, is the true focus of this research. There are two main components within this thesis; the first is an exploration of the trends associated with the production and distribution of the UGC through a survey 200 user-generated videos sourced, mainly, from YouTube, discussing in particular pivotal ‘documental’ elements of the material. The second is an investigation into how YouTube and the uploaders of such content work in conjunction with one another to ultimately create a collective of material (although, this collective is of material has degraded over time due to the unstable nature of the platform). This includes an inspection of how uploaders ‘market’ their material on the platform, and how YouTube distributes and displays this content to potential audiences. This research has found that YouTube, not only works as a ‘platform’ or an ‘archive’, but a facilitator of potential pathways through similar content. By establishing relationships between this content based on user-defined ‘tags’ and descriptions, YouTube then automatically recommends the audience to follow hyperlinked routes through this related material. These pathways can be seen as ‘narrative possibilities’ as the system encourages users to follow a sequence of related material - a pathway that needs to be ‘performed’ by users which can, arguably, provide a kind of narrative of the events in Christchurch. The traditional definition of ‘documentary’ does not take into account these new media and new modes of distribution and reception; this thesis, however, has argued that this level of interactivity, and the ways in which YouTube and content creators present material, has the potential to create a type of documentary narrative.
Type of thesis
Jackson, H. J. (2013). A Collective Documentary? A case study of audio-visual UGC surrounding the Christchurch earthquakes (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7561
University of Waikato
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