Citizen Journalism Puts a Win in the First Amendment Column

We have all seen the videos of Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles, Oscar Grant’s death at the BART station in Oakland, Anthony Graber’s arrest for videotaping his own arrest in Maryland, and other “caught on video” scenes with public officials behaving outside the law or violating the rights of citizens.   The question brought before the US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, is simple – is filming a public official in the performance of their duties a right guaranteed us  under the 1st amendment of the US Constitution?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (1st Amendment, US Constitution)

Montreal Fire DepartmentOn 26 August the US Court of Appeals issued their opinion, following a suit filed by the ALCU on behalf of Simon Glik, a citizen arrested on 1 October 2007 for filming a Boston Police take down of a man in Boston Commons.  Glik was standing in a public location, at least 10 feet away from the officers, when suspicion of excessive use of force prompted him to film the incident with his cell phone.  A Boston police officer challenged Glik on whether he was capturing audio with his film, and upon admitting he was, the officers arrested Glik under Massachusetts wiretap statute.

It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”

…An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.'”

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles.

Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” (Case 10-1764)

This is a major win for citizens, and citizen journalists.  With “mainstream” media such as CNN recruiting “iReporters” for  their broadcasts, it is a clear message to the world traditional journalists cannot adequately cover world events, and citizen journalists have a role in filling coverage gaps during rapidly evolving events.

While we can acknowledge police officers and public officials will not always warmly embrace embrace this decision, it is the law.

Why it is Important to Support Citizen Journalism and the Right to Record Events

National and local newspapers are rapidly closing due to either mismanagement (the owners did not see the radical changes prompted by the digital age), bankruptcy, or combinations of both dynamics. The “Newspaper Deathwatch” website highlights the major newspapers that have closed in the past five years, and those which have either announced their demise or change to an all digital format.

With the loss of newspapers, the media industry is also losing experienced reporters, creating major shortfalls in coverage of public events (such as city hall meetings, school board meetings, etc), as well as incidents and events occurring within the community (such as accidents, fires, weather-related news, etc).

Among the more well-known sites which have closed or changed formats are:

  • Honolulu Advertiser (closed and merged with the Star-Bulletin)
  • Rocky Mountain News
  • Cincinnati Post
  • Baltimore Examiner
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • Detroit News/Free press
  • Christian Science Monitor

This means local news sources are becoming more scarce, depriving citizens of knowledge related to their local community.  The digital age supports gathering and recovering that knowledge, primarily through user generated content.  An emerging trend in news gathering and presentation is through hyper-local web sites focusing on individual communities or geographies.  As many startup hyper-local media sources are self-funded or lacking ample startup funding, the editors and owners do rely on citizen generated content to provide news to readers.

The US Court of Appeals in their decision on recording public officials and police have fortunately accepted and understood the changing technologies and media environment, acknowledging citizens recording  events are protected under the Bill of Rights, and those citizens are also protected from illegal arrest, search, or seizure of their media.

NOTE:  Attempts to contact the public affairs/information officer (PIO) at several Los Angeles area police departments were unsuccessful.  If the PIOs do eventually respond, we will update the blog with that response.  This is not meant to degrade the professionalism or courage of police officers,  rather it is meant to highlight citizen rights under the 1st and 4th amendments under the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

A Situational Benefit of Citizen Journalism

Citizen JournalistOver the past three years I’ve added study of citizen journalism to my collection of hobbies.  One of those subjects where it is understood you may never make a penny income for your labors, but a lot of fun to learn and appreciate the skills of written and photo journalism, and the role non-professional citizens have in extending the reach of “mainstream” journalism.

Following dozens of writing classes, journalism courses, a couple hundred blog articles, and hours of online seminars via podcasts from sources such as the Columbia School of Journalism, I decided to take stock of what I have learned, and what value this “hobby” has brought to my life.

In military we are taught to develop a sense called “situational awareness.”  This developed sense builds skills in seeing, categorizing, understanding, and evaluating your surroundings.   Of course this is valuable when put in an environment potentially presenting danger allowing a soldier to quickly understand threats, opportunities, avenues of attack, avenues of escape, and all other things that allow the soldier to stay alive while meeting his objectives.

Having gone through my three year refresher course of journalism and citizen journalism appreciation training, I find the most striking lesson is the situational awareness journalists need to develop and employ in their jobs.  it is not enough to simply go to a city council meeting and record conversations, the journalist needs to become one with their environment, and take a Gestalt view of surrounding activities as a situation or event develops.

The basic who, why, what, when, where, and how questions force a journalist to collect information, classify information, evaluate information, and present information in a manner which will be understood by their target audience.

Then, we have the material or content to present either a raw view (in the case of a citizen journalist), or a view with context for others to understand an event that will now become a record in history.

But What if I am Not a Journalist?

Actually, we are all journalists.  We all write reports, record performance, produce statistics, evaluate opportunities, and keep the “books.”

In business those who develop exceptional situational awareness are able to more quickly evaluate opportunities, threats, risks, and their environment.  However we can get lazy, often relying on routine and past experience when making decision in a rapidly changing world.

A study in journalism has taught me to go back to those lessons learned in the military, and to establish better discipline in applying the “5Ws” and “H” principle of journalism to daily life.  Our business lives require constant decision making, and more informed decision will statistically beat “gut” reactions.  Nothing wrong with a gut reaction, but decisions made on an “informed” gut reaction will likely yield a better result.

It is All About Discipline

I have to add a note of appreciation to my recent instructors, including Ms. Susan Cormier, head coach at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (NACJ).  A citizen journalist, blogger, or business person rarely has the opportunity to receive a detailed writing critique from a qualified editor.  Going back to school, and receiving that neutral evaluation of your work will not only humble a bit or personal arrogance, but also ensure your writing is clear, to the point, and focuses on  facts.

Whether it is enhancing your interview skills, grammar skills, organization skills, or simply using creativity to come up with new ideas, the discipline of journalism can only make your product better.

I strongly encourage all readers and writers to go back to Writing 101, Journalism 101, and business communications.  Through the magic of Internet, most of this can be yours without cost.  Why not?

Formalizing Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalists come in two major categories.  The first is an accidental journalist, or a person who just happens to be at the scene of an event.  This person will record the event, or portions of the event, for later analysis by potentially a global audience.  The second are those who intentionally seek out events, and provide their own analysis (along with raw source materials) of events.  This person will often act as a “non-credentialed” alternative to “professional” journalists.  Let’s call them “Enthusiast Citizen Journalists.”

Accidental Citizen JournalistsThrough the magic of an Internet-connected world, now even citizen journalists have resources available online to bring more training to supplant their efforts, bringing much more credibility to the blogging and user-provided news content community.

In the era of print journalism, much of the content form was driven by available space, as well as being influenced by advertising.  Newspapers and news magazines had strict rules on fact checking, form, style, and story structure.  Blogging and Internet news sources, given the nature of computer screens, real-time updates, and global access forced change in how media is gathered, managed, and presented.

However the publisher’s intent remains the same – present the news in a format that will grab a reader’s attention, keep them reading, and sell advertising.  Oh, and keep the reader coming back for more…

The Citizen Journalist and Online Media

Citizen Journalism changes the rules.  Now, anybody who can figure out the basics of WordPress or Blogger is a publisher.  With several million people already blogging in some form, that is a lot of “stuff” for the Internet-enabled community to slog through in an attempt to discover useful information.  it is increasingly difficult to discriminate between fact, opinion, propaganda, or simply the bizarre ramblings of a chemically-enhanced former actor’s mind.

There is good news.  The “old” publishing industries and broadcast media have started embracing the idea that both accidental journalists and enthusiast journalists have not only a role to play, but are now being accepted as  offering valuable contributions to the news industry.  This is very apparent when you watch broadcast news, look at online news sources, or even print media.  Nearly every news organization actively solicits input from citizens, whether on-the-scene reports via Skype, or simply uploading pictures and videos to a web site.

However until this point the “old” media has used citizen input as a raw news source, normally providing analysis and commentary on the citizen-provided materials with “professional” journalists.

Training the Citizen Journalist, and Gaining Credibility at the Source

Nearly every university has at least one course introducing concepts of journalism.  However in the old days (pre ~2010) there was little incentive or justification for taking much more than an introductory course in journalism – unless of course you were planning a career in the journalism industry.  Now, in a world of social media, online everything, blogging, and complex corporate websites, nearly everybody who works is starting to see the need to understand how to think and write at a level which can be understood by a global-connected audience.

Management sections at bookstores (those few remaining) have a large shelf dedicated to the theory of selling yourself, your company, and your future through the Internet.  There is a strong message to professionals that emphasizes the need to “publish” expertise through blogs and online media.

Then we have the enthusiast citizen journalist (ECJ).  Armed with a digital camera, digital voice recorder, laptop computer, and desire to seek out events (and record them…), the ECJ wants to fill in the gaps left when traditional news media edits or determines what the reader/viewer community needs to know.  However, the bad part is few ECJs actually have enough training to present their stories in a way average readers or viewers can accept or absorb.

To help meet this need, the educational community, and news media community have started providing good quality training online to ECJs that will help bring a much higher levels of quality and form to blogs and ECJ-provided content.

Much of the online training is very citizen journalist aware, much of it is trying to push a “round citizen journalist peg” into a “square traditional journalism hole.”  In either case the training gives each potential ECJ, or even professional striking out into the blogging world a refresher course in writing for an audience.  All network-enabled writers need reminders and practical exercises on how to gather, present, and explain events.  All ECJs and bloggers need to know how to create a feature or story allowing not only presentation of an idea, but also to allow for opinion and editorial – without generating low-value noise.

If you are an aspiring ECJ, professional who needs to provide a blogging presence, or simply want to explore the technique and craft of new media journalism, take a look at some of the following training resources.  Some are free, some are not.

  • Knight Citizen News NetworkThe Knight Citizen News Network is a self-help portal that guides both ordinary citizens and traditional journalists in launching and responsibly operating community news and information sites.
  • Poynter News UniversityPoynter is a school that exists to ensure that Americans have access to excellent journalism—the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy.
  • Journalism Training Org.  A directory of local training venues.
  • National Association of Citizen JournalistsNACJ membership and training empowers citizen journalists for the exciting task of discovering, writing and reporting news with a level of professionalism that was once the standard in major media outlets.

Lots more available via a Google search…

And, of course we’d expect the academic community to embrace the potential given to us through Internet-enabled technologies, and further diffuse online journalism training into the educational curriculum for students, better preparing the next generations to fully exploit the power of images, videos, and words.

With all types of citizen journalism, the global community will have much greater access to unfiltered events either as they happen, or shortly afterward.  Nearly every person on the planet has the ability to be an accidental citizen journalist, and most of us the ability to become an ECJ.  In the past our quality of reporting has often been marginal, but in the future we will evolve, through training, to better meet the challenges and opportunities offered by a global audience.

Concerns Grow as Violence Against Journalists Continues to Escalate

Local news stations monitored the situation on 1 May 2007 in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.  A peaceful May Day demonstration had moved into the park, and police had failed to correctly guide participants and marchers, and with a higher than anticipated volume of people began to lose control of the situation. 

The news caught the police response in real time, including the use of non-lethal force against journalists covering the demonstration.

The treatment of some members of the media raised questions about the training, discipline and understanding of the role of the media on the part of some of the officers in MacArthur Park that day. Some officers did not adhere to the guidelines required pursuant to agreements between the Department and the media…

…in the move to clear the park, some officers pushed and struck some members of the media to move them from the area, rather than allowing the media to move safely into a designated media viewing area. (From Final Report on MacArthur Park Incident, LAPD)

While shocking to the people of Los Angeles, with full media coverage the police simply could not ignore the outrage of a community which relies on police to provide for the safety of citizens, and enforce those laws determined by elected representatives of the people of Los Angeles, California, and the United States.

The Role of Journalists

Journalists document events, and present those events to the community as an informational message, or as a permanent  historical record.  Without journalists documenting events, the history of an event may be lost within a generation.

Journalists, when not used as a tool for misinformation or propaganda, record and present facts.  Those facts may later be used in independent or expert analysis of an event, but the raw record remains untouched.

Citizen journalism supplements traditional journalism with the purity of untouched records of events using modern technology available to a very high percentage of the global community, including cameras, mobile phones, and other common recording media.

This is all good, if the intention of journalism is to ensure events are recorded for immediate analysis, and future generations will have access to evidence needed to better understand how historical events have influenced the present.

So why are we constantly faced with news stories telling us of violence committed against journalists in both developed and developing countries?  What is it about creating a record of history that drives some governments and people to assault, kill, or prevent journalists from doing their jobs?

The Desire for Power and Illegal Activities

There are several groups sharing a common hatred of journalists.  The police, criminals, and repressive governments.  All have historically been the perpetrators of either human rights violations, or have a desire to ensure facts about events or incidents are never recorded or made available to the public.  In short, those organizations that need to maintain secrecy to prevent the public from being aware of their behavior or actions.

Not all police are bad, and not all governments are bad.  To protect operations, a high level of secrecy is often critical to the safety and success of a mission.  And there is certainly adequate justification for the protection of certain classifications of state secrets.

On the other hand, those immoral and unethical elements of our global community who bring themselves to power or success through illegal activities or use of brutality against those they strive to control public knowledge of their activities, as exposure will in most case bring swift retaliation or condemnation.

Oppressive regimes such as Iran, North Korea, Angola, and Kyrgyzstan exercise strict control over what can be recorded to reported mainly due to the reality their actions against the people are at a level of violence that the civilized world finds horrifying and repulsive.  And the result is international condemnation and economic sanctions against the regime.

Luanda – The Union of Angolan Journalists said it was worried about the recent rise in violence against reporters. One journalist was murdered and two others attacked over the past three months. No arrests have been made in any of a series of recent attacks against journalists in Angola, the oil-rich country that was recently ranked the 10th most corrupt in the world by watchdog Transparency International.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release independent journalists Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov, and to ensure the safety of other journalists working in southern Kyrgyzstan, which has been engulfed by interethnic violence since early June.

Concern is rising over attacks on the press in Iraq, following the recent deaths of journalists and media workers in a particularly bloody week for the profession, which raises questions of press freedom in the region. With reporters and media workers falling victim to both insurgents and US military action, and the interim government planning “stringent controls” on the media through a newly-created Higher Media Council, it has been asked whether it is possible to have a free press in Iraq.

The escalating violence against journalists in Mexico prompted an unprecedented demonstration of more than 1,000 people in ten cities, demanding an end to murders, kidnappings and disappearances

Journalist Amy Miller of the Alternative Media Centre was arrested over the weekend at the G20 protests in Toronto. She was held for 13 hours, during which time she saw multiple women strip-searched and was repeatedly threatened with rape.

An article in the police support site “Police One” expresses mixed feelings from a veteran officer discussing the use of police cameras – and citizen journalism on the behavior of police. 

While expressing concern that video of police behaving badly may only represent a snippet of a larger situation, there is still an acknowledgement that videos are helping hold police accountable. “My own view is that YouTube has done more to expose the reality of police abuse than all the blue-ribbon commissions combined,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied police brutality.

The LAPD incident during the 2007 May day rally in Los Angeles caught both overly aggressive police using force to break up a crowd, as well as the same level of force being used against journalists who were recording the action.

NOTE:  This is not an anti-COP blog.  While I have personally seen, and experienced completely unjustified violence and abuse committed by “bad cops,” I can also say that my own “home town” police in Long Beach (California) are among the finest law enforcement professionals in the world. If you look at the LA County Sheriff’s website, and count the number of violent incidents managed by deputies every day, it is clear they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and are doing absolutely the best possible job.

On the other hand, the Rodney King beatings, 2007 May Day Demonstration, and hundreds of other incidents do expose a level of abuse that simply cannot be allowed to exist in a free, democratic society.

The Long Term Impact of Technology and Citizen Journalism

If you live in a city, there are very few public locations left without some level of surveillance or video monitoring.  Nearly every mobile phone sold today has a camera embedded in the device, and even homes are now using video security.

This record of our lives is good and bad.  Bad in the context of losing nearly every last shred of privacy and anonymity, good in the respect incidents of crime and violence are much more likely to be recorded for review, evaluation, and use.

As in the recent elections in Iran, where citizen journalists caught abuses by the police and government on their mobile phones, and then transmitted the images at near real time to social media and file sharing sites around the world – governments and police will now have to look at not only the threat card-carrying journalists bring to their antics, but also will need to look at every person on the street, mounted security cameras, and the Internet as their enemy.

Journalists will also have access to much more public and private resource provided by technology and citizen journalists.  The true value in professional journalism will be reinforced as the ability to interpret raw facts and apply contextual relations and value to those facts – a skill most citizen journalists lack.

Those maintaining their positions of authority and power may not fall soon, but at least now there is a greater chance their abuses will surface and face the global judgment.

A Tsunami of Global Disaster Communications through Citizen Journalism

The news started hitting California early Saturday morning with an SMS alarm on my mobile phone – a major earthquake struck Chile, and there was a potential of tsunami activity in California and Hawaii (as well as the rest of the Pacific). First Citizen Journalism Transforming Mediastop – CNN. The news source was right on the story, with real time information flowing into the newsroom from, not on-scene journalists, but through Twitter and Facebook updates.

Another SMS message hits the phone letting me know there was a Twitter list at #hitsunami, and the discussion would include all the most current news related to tsunami preparations in Hawaii. Also gave a link to a web page that was broadcasting a live feed from KHON in Honolulu until the station integrated their feed on the KHON home page.

Back to CNN, cell phone videos began pouring in from Santiago and Concepcion. CNN began broadcasting directly from Chile – not from a CNN journalist, but from a Chilean citizen streaming video through a Skype connection. KHON also began streaming video and audio from a private citizen through BJPENN.COM in Hilo, as KHON also did not have a real time video feed of their own, or a journalist on site that could provide adequate real time information from the city.

Then, the same stream from BJPENN.COM in Hilo showed up on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Citizen Journalism is here to Stay

News media is changing forever. Citizens now have the technology, and savvy, to provide the world with real time, unedited news feeds 24×7, 365 days a year, and from nearly any single location on the planet. Neither mainstream news media outlets nor governments can fully control the presentation of events occurring around the world. With nearly every mobile phone equipped with a camera or video device, and the ability to send images through both the mobile networks and Internet, reality can once again be reality.

Government actions, law enforcement actions, and individual actions are now more likely to be recorded than not – ensuring that at a raw level, fact will become available to the world without government or media corruption of the source.

While the mainstream news media may still add “expert” commentary and attempt to interpret events, those events can no longer be controlled or hidden from the global community. There are exceptions, such as embedding journalists within military operations. The government will still control what the public views or learns from those journalists, and propaganda will still be part of our lives. Mainstream media will still try to interpret events in a manner supporting their political views (if in doubt, watch the US stations Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and BBC America for a variety of interpretations of a single event).

But that line of deception, or use of propaganda, becomes thinner every day as the diffusion of recording devices and communications continues to become available to nearly every person on the planet.

“We are getting Twitter reports and photos from the Big Island…”

With residents of the Big Island scattered along the shores of Hawaii, and nearly 100% of them with a mobile communications device, people on the island were kept up to date by the second of tsunami activity hitting the island. Emergency services broadcast information upon receipt of updates, and if there was ever a “dry run” for emergency communications, the people of Hawaii showed the world how it should be done.

As Governor Lingle stated in a pre-event news conference (broadcast to KHON studios via Skype), “the eyes of the world are now on Hawaii.” Gov. Lingle, and the people of Hawaii should be proud of the way they set a new standard for integrating citizen journalism, broadcast journalism, and emergency services into a single, integrated community.

CNN, Fox, and MSNBC had one theme in common throughout the rapidly unfolding Chile earthquake events, and preparations for a tsunami event around the Pacific – “send us your images, reports, and video, but do not put yourself in danger.”

Mainstream media gets it. They may not like it much, but they get it. iReports, real-time Skype and Twitter reports, SMS messages, and mobile imaging have given us the potential of having around 4 billion citizen journalists available to produce news content. CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are more than welcome to collate and interpret those events, but now we have a choice of making our own interpretations, listening to the mainstream media’s interpretations, or listening to the government’s interpretation of local or global events.

Citizen Journalism and Tweets bring Haiti’s Horror to the World

CNN has people on the ground in Port Au Prince. They use high performance satellite phones and transmission equipment to bring a Citizen journalists turn to Twitterfew shots from Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta to world viewers. That is what we expect from CNN. Then CNN begins the roll call of tweets from people within Haiti bringing real time news. Continuing with interviews using Skype with video direct from Haiti. And the innovative ideas on how to get the word out continue.

Fox news, MSNBC, all the major US news sources quote the information they are getting from the ground, or show videos received via Twitter and other social media tools. Most of the news we are getting via Twitter and social media is raw, simply passing on a snapshot in time. Then the news casters, with their back office of analysts and experts, are able to translate the news into a consumable item for American and international viewers.

This is citizen journalism at its best, bringing the news of nature’s worst to a global audience. It is important, as it brings the real news, direct to a global audience, without censorship. It tells us, as humanitarians, that our help is once again needed to support our fellow man in a distant land we May not even be able to find on a map. It allows CNN (as my preferred news source – you can pick your own) to give us “vetted” instructions on how to help. It gives you access to real time “tweets” on how to find out the latest news direct from the source (@cnnbrk/Haiti or #haiticnn).

Of course nearly all news networks and sources have a similar listing of sites to learn the best way for you to contribute – just log into the site of your choice. In California you can contact several great sites, including”

It probably makes no difference which site you use, just find a site with a vettesd and legitimate means of getting your donation to Haiti.

Go to your Twitter account and do a search on Haiti and you will find more sources of real-time information.

Tweeting Reality

Our world is changing. Whether it be a mobile phone with video or photo capability, internet-enabled computer, or wireless PDA, the ability for humans to provide real time event information is now at an unprecedented level. Could Twitter Founders Evan Willams and Biz Stone have envisioned their short messaging service, or micro-blog could potentially change global communications in 140 characters or less?

From wildfires in California, to airplanes landing in the Hudson, to the streets of Tehran, and to the horror of Haiti, Twitter is rapidly becoming the citizen journalist’s weapon of choice in delivering status updates on just about everything, with an uncanny ability to focus on real things when necessary.

Let’s get Haiti under our belt, and then start a deep dive into social networking, real-time information transmission and sharing, and find ways we can structure this tremendous resource into a much more easy, and logical process for users of all capabilities and knowledge. This is one of the world’s true disruptive technologies with a potential to change not only real time communications, but also media and journalism as we know it today.

Citizen Journalism as a Catalyst for Transforming Media

Another incident on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) hits YouTube, and the world is once again asking the question if BART Police are using too much force, the police acted appropriately, or if BART passengers simply recorded a snapshot in time that could be interpreted at a later date. In the past, to find out what happened during an incident such as the most recent BART scuffle, you would be dependent on a newspaper’s beat journalist to hang around a police station. He’d get a copy of the official police report, perhaps talk with one of his friends on the force, and transcribe what he gathered.

Now news and media are real time. You can get Twitter tweets and video feeds from mobile phones, laptop computers, and reporters on the scene with CNN (or other international news sources). In many cases even established news outlets are starting to heavily rely on “stringers,” or freelancers to provide on-scene raw video for later interpretation by news readers. Nearly every news outlet today asks for viewers to send their “i-Reports” and videos to supplement news reports, and to reduce the amount of time from incident to broadcast.

A very different world from the days of Walter Cronkite, when the evening news would be a well-edited account from a distant reporter, formatted for the time allotted by network news, and face news competition by only a couple other networks (in the United States that would include CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS).

The Biased Media

Media outlets have changed as well, moving from being a 5WH (who, why, what, when, where, how) style of reporting to networks such as Fox, openly stating they present a “conservative” point of view (Huckabee, Hannity, Beck, etc). This means in many cases viewers who prefer a certain point of view will be presented with interpretation of news events which support their beliefs.

It is also becoming more difficult to determine whether a news story is actually a press release or advertisement, rather than hard news. Even when a government organization or company is interviewed following some event or incident, the person interviewed is generally a professional public relations specialist, who may not find presentation of fact as a desired outcome of the interview.

Citizen Journalism Tends to be Pure

In most cases, when a freelancer or citizen records an event, they provide that record of the even in its raw, or pure state. If you see a home video of a tornado on CNN, then most likely the person providing that video is not providing commentary, only the video. When we were receiving near real-time cell phone video from Tehran during the recent violence following elections, most of the video received came out as quickly as possible, and was then processed in its raw form through venues such as YouTube.

All we really ask from the citizen journalist, to give their story or record of an event credibility, is:

  • An unedited record or account of the event
  • A reference of the event recording’s origin
  • A factual context of the event (who, when, where)

We do not always need a deep analysis of an event by a reporter or analyst who’s motivation may be based on how sensational they can make the event, which political or religious ideology they should promote when presenting an event, or their own personal opinion. The main thing we need is context, and enough information to allow us to respond to the news if needed (such as during an emergency or other condition).

Media Changes

David Sasaki, in a recent PBS IdeaLab article walked through the changes in media over the past 550 years. Starting with transcribing bibles for the Catholic Church and aristocracy, and walking through the social changes driven by innovations such as the Gutenberg press, radio, television, and newspapers, Sasaki presents a very compelling argument for embracing change. Whether it be eliminating unnecessary reporters and editors, or better understanding the impact of social media and “publics” created through a global-connected community, we need to understand the dynamics of media change to develop a vision of how news media and information transfer may evolve.

In the 1960s you would watch even local news stations for the “Evening News,” and you would get a solid 30 minutes of reporting on national, international, and local news. Today, if you watch news programs such as CNN’s Headline news, you might get 3 or 4 minutes of hard news, and then 25 minutes of human interest stories filling out the rest of a segment.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to interpret news from marketing, fact from advertising and public relations, or gaining access to raw news.

Chaos Theory and Media

Chaos Theory states that any system is vulnerable to changing conditions either within or encroaching on the system. If the current or historical media systems are an example, we can see innovation or technologies (such as the Gutenberg press, Internet, paper, radio) as a significant disruptor to the media “system.”

The Internet is currently a very disruptive element to traditional media, as it provides a platform for applications such as YouTube, Twitter, instant messaging, and other utilities to provide either real-time, or near real-time one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many communications. On a global scale.

The other disruptor is the fact young people have internet-enabled technologies fully diffused into their education and life, allowing the new “Generation Z” visibility into new communication concepts that prior generations may not yet comprehend, or may never comprehend. What will come out of this diffusion of knowledge into Gen Z-ers? Impossible to know, but it will no doubt potentially be as huge an event as the Gutenberg press was to the world of the 1400s.

A generation where the people are the news, create the news, consume the news, and provide the news. There will be casualties as we re-organize media outlets which no longer adequately support the 21st century, but the result will be really, really exciting.

Gen-Z youth are not mentally restrained by the technical limitations and legacy of existing broadcast and print media. With their diffused knowledge and operation of existing and emerging technologies, they have a “clean slate” to develop new models of media, news, social interaction, and global presence. As “baby boomers,” we need to continue creating the tools our fledgling Generation Z needs to envision ways to exploit our technology, and further build our global presence and instant access to that news and information they need to live in a wired world.

John Savageau, Long Beach

Citizen Journalists Take On Iran’s Government

Citizen journalism (also known as “public”, “participatory”, “democratic” or “street journalism”) is the concept of members of the public “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” Wikipedia

On Wednesday, CNN frequently showed amateur videos, with a graphic that labeled them “unverified material.” It showed a YouTube video of the aftermath of an apparent raid at Tehran University. The video showed rooms that appeared to have been burned extensively.  New York Times

Citizen Journalism took on a very clear role this week as the Iranian government continued to deport journalists admitted with temporary visas (to cover the Iranian elections).  As western journalists were told reporting on the demonstrations and protests against perceived election fraud was illegal (“We warn those who propagate riots and spread rumors that our legal action against them will cost them dearly,” a statement from the military force said), the burden of reporting fell on the shoulders of Iranian citizens participating in the demonstrations.

Most of the reporting comes in the form of videos uploaded to YouTube, email, and updates to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  The reporting is generally a recording of events, which is then commented upon by western news media.

During the 1993 Russian Constitutional Crisis citizen journalists used email and Usenet newsgroups to transmit near real-time updates on activities as the Army moved to occupy the White House, and many Russian citizens were killed or injured.  This supplemented the very limited news media, which was not officially allowed near the events.  Perhaps one of the first examples of the “Internet Age of Journalism.”

Even in the United States, visual accounts of events involving police brutality become instantly available to the rest of the world.  This was clearly demonstrated when Oscar Grant was shot on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train platform News Years night.  Dozens of citizens recorded the incident on their mobile phones, uploading the images to YouTube and social networking sites directly from the platform within seconds of the event.

Now as mobile phone and computerized video files continue to flow from Iran to the rest of the world, keeping people up to date with events in Iran, we can reflect on changes taking place in the Internet age of information.  CNN reporters, who have been with us providing news since the 1980s, are now barred from providing real time views of Tehran.  They are taking “iReports” provided by Iranian citizens, and providing commentary on videos that cannot be independently verified.  We need to assume that video being used is an accurate record of events – perhaps a big assumption in a world also well known for use of media deception and propaganda.

However one message is very clear.  Regardless of the validity of visual and citizen provided accounts of events, it will be very difficult for governments to contain or suppress news in the future. The Internet has provided a means to instantly globalize information and news.  Governments will forever be held accountable for their actions in the court of world opinion.


John Savageau, Long Beach

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