User-Submitted Content: Current Versus CNN

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I spent part of New Year's Day getting down with viewer-submitted TV content and had two very different experiences.

This morning, I watched Current TV  , Al Gore and Joel Hyatt's year-old cable channel designed around short-form video shot by its viewers . Current counted down the top 71 videos - or "pods," as it calls them - of 2006 (you can actually watch some of them online.) 

I caught pods number eight through number one and was mesmerized for the better half of an hour. Current is what viewer-created content should be - smart, well-produced pieces that give me a look at stories I otherwise wouldn't get to see reported on TV.

In one pod, a Current correspondent became the first international journalist to go inside a gun market in Mogadishu. In another, a reporter submitted himself to waterboarding to show what torture was actually like. And in another, which actually got me a little choked up, a correspondent who looked all of 24 nearly got hit by a katyusha in a Haifa train depot during a report on the rockets coming from Lebanon. These are solid stories by young people who actually care about what they're reporting. The VJs who announce the pods do so quickly and unobtrusively without slinging around journalese and winking at each other.

Contrast that with CNN's hour-long infomercial tonight for its own attempt at programming viewer-submitted content - "iReport for CNN: The Year as You Saw It." CNN started the "iReport" area of its Website in August to give viewers a way to submit stories they'd shot themselves and tonight at 8 p.m. devoted an hour to talking up how great the thing was.

Granted, CNN is using iReport submissions - lots of breaking news shot on cellphones - as a supplement to its own content, and not its entire body of programming like Current, and, granted, their target audience is significantly older than Current's. So I'll give them a little leeway in not being hip to how to present the stuff.

But even if I'm being forgiving, I still have to say their anchors - T.J. Holmes and Betty Nguyen - were completely cheesy - all made up and exchanging these fake laughs and knowing little looks like all those cheery a capella groups I so couldn't stand in college. They did less showing what people had shot and more talking to each other about what iReport is.

They would've done better letting the no-name twentysomethings who actually run the thing for CNN talk about it instead of relegating them to a short bit about how easy it is to film yourself with a cellphone. One bright spot - CNN Internet reporter Abbi Tatton , who filed a short piece on how The Situation Room used iReport and managed to be both sufficiently corporate and convincingly savvy.

By Anne Becker