Citizen Journalism Continues Journey into Unchartered Space
February 10, 2011 6 Comments
Nobody can foresee events such as natural disasters. They happen, are often tragic, and history records the event as a snapshot in time. Sometimes that history is based on well-documented photos, videos, and personal observations, and sometimes it is recorded as reality determined by persons or governments with an agenda different than presenting empirical truth.
The government in Egypt recently tried disrupting communications by temporarily stopping Internet and phone access, as well as attempting (in some cases violently) to restrict or limit access to demonstrations by journalists and the international media.
The blockage was done to thwart seditionaries and protestors who had been using social media outlets to organize activities and share information about the uprising with the outside world. (BetaNews)
But the images still found their way out of Cairo to the international community.
Regular citizens taking photos and video with cameras and mobile phones, finding creative ways to transmit the images outside of their country. Images without comment, sometimes awaiting others to add context to the story. We have entered a world of instant communications, a world where we no longer rely on traditional news media, journalists, or government propaganda machines to keep us informed.
The Skeptics Voice an Opinion
There are still those who believe journalism must remain the sole realm of “professionals.” Without professional analysis, news cannot be trusted or fully understood, and amateurs cannot possibly provide required credibility to stories, or explanation to raw media.
David Simon, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, now television producer and evangelist for dismantling citizen journalists and bringing back newspapers, testified in front of the US Congress on 6 May 2009, stating:
“…The internet is a marvelous tool and clearly it is the informational delivery system of our future, but thus far it does not deliver much first-generation reporting. Instead, it leeches that reporting from mainstream news publications, whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth…
…Understand here that I am not making a Luddite argument against the internet and all that it offers. But democratized and independent though they may be, you do not – in my city — run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall, or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars and union halls where police officers gather. You do not see them consistently nurturing and then pressing sources. You do not see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis.” (RTM)
Of course there is a place for commentators and professionals drilling into a story, however the idea news must be validated through the fog of alcohol in a bar is very 1900s, not valid in the Internet age. We are quickly entering a world where guilt and innocence is better determined through DNA testing and video, rather than an alcoholic detective making a deal with a prosecutor or lawyer
But we all know that is bound to change. There are few places in a city that are not covered by cameras, either fixed or on phones. Very few events will occur that are not recorded at some level, and with social media sites, YouTube, Flickr, and other “iReport” sites, that media can find its way to the Internet at almost real-time speed.
It is Getting Difficult to Hide
We are concerned with privacy – for good reason. With GPS locators in phones, cameras everywhere, license plate recognition software, facial recognition software, finger prints and DNA scans – it is getting really difficult to remain anonymous.
But those who control us (police, governments) want to ensure their secrets are kept secure. And this is not limited to Egypt or Iran, it is also in the US, where journalists were shot (with non-lethal ammunition) trying to record May Day demonstrations in Los Angeles in 2008. In most case where those controlling groups react aggressively to those who wish to record their actions, it is because those actions are breaking some level of code or law, and the controlling group does not want their activities to become part of a formal record.
Examples of this include the Rodney King beatings, LAPD assaulting bicycle riders, Abu Ghraib, and other abundant instances of official misconduct caught on camera. Now we have Wikileaks, love ‘em or hate ‘em, exposing activities by various governments that is opening the eyes of people around the world on what behavior their governments are using when conducting “official” business. And of course this is being aggressively blocked wherever possible in the name of “national security.”
A Partnership Between Citizen Journalists, Citizens, and the Media
There are sadly, too many examples of violence against traditional journalists, citizen journalists, and normal citizens simply recording the actions of others. Recent attacks on journalists in Egypt, Albania, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Pakistan by government sanctioned forces highlights the desire of those in power to eliminate evidence of their irresponsible, illegal, and immoral activities.
In cases such as these, citizen journalist can work with traditional media to supplement their access to events and incidents that traditional media would be prevented from observing and reporting.
The internet age of social networking, YouTube, photo sharing, twitter, and email might be a dark line drawn in the process of making governments, police, companies, and individuals accountable for their actions. A line that would have never been possible without the Internet, citizen journalists, and an embedded camera in nearly every mobile phone made.
“You Can’t Handle the Truth”
Who can forget that famous line delivered by Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men?”
The reality is, we can handle the truth, and must be prepared to handle the truth. We have a basic human right to be informed. We have an obligation to hold our governments and leaders accountable for their actions.
Applaud citizen journalists for their courage and dedication in bringing us images of the truth.