In a very obvious and public way, citizen journalism has taken hold of all forms of media in the past few years. Whether it was the Virginia Tech student’s eerie mobile phone clip depicting the gunshots of a mass murderer or the hanging of Saddam Hussein, one short clip on a consumer camera or mobile can change the world’s view of a single event and, consequently, the way the world documents the event as history itself.
Mentioning Saddam Hussein, a new clip has surfaced on the internet which depicts the recently-executed (at the time of filming) former leader of Iraq, or his body at least, laying in the back of a van, accompanied by the singing and cheering of a crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of his body. According to the post on video website LiveLeak.com Chief Prosecutor Munqith Al-Faroun is depicted in the video, which was filmed outside an Iraqi Ministers’ HQ. Sorry for the lack of details but after a cursory search on Google for further information there seems to be little about.
However, it’s images like these which make real events all the more pertinant to the viewers at home. Showing a clip which someone has shot on their own camera, with its shaky and unprofessional style, often lends an essential bite of realism to any correspondant’s report, be it on the 24-hour news channels, relevant audio on the radio or the stills in a newspaper. Certainly even more crucial, is the fact that this is shot by an eyewitness at the time of the event, and as most news broadcasters’ and newspapers’ skills end ahead of clairvoyancy, getting the story from the scene recorded as it’s happening is a real boon.
Not all news is good news, though. This very blog counts as citizen journalism and what if I were to make wild accusations of a celebrity in sordid affairs with a head of state, including fuzzy pictures of some lookalikes? Not only would it be snapped up by the Daily Mirror (sorry, that was a cheap shot) but those who did pick up the story could find themselves in big trouble had I been a hoaxer. By the time news sources can verify claims to one thing or another, it’s likely the real hacks are on the scene/story by now, dampening the effect the citizen reporter has on the media.
Citizen journos have the power to provide real insight and many of the media giants have recently grasped that as the future in news broadcasting. In the case of the Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Cho, he was himself a citizen journalist – describing to the world the reasons he decided to commit the crimes, something which no other person, let alone broadcaster, would be able to do.
However, there seems to be continually more to citizen journalism than first meets the eye. The constraints of BBC, Sky (et al) and newspaper output mean that the reporting on the story has to end somewhere, obviously in order to be able to report other events going on in the world. This is where news made by the people, for the people, really comes into its own.
Take Alive in Baghdad as one example. These self-made, ‘semi-pro’ (they don’t work for furnishing their pockets but the editing, camera work and generally effort put in is similar to that of a professional) and all-round good eggs gave cameras to ordinary Iraqis and ask them to film daily life. When the news cameras have stopped rolling, you really get to see life for what it is there, especially as conversations with interviewees are long and detailed, meaning the viewer really connects with the person, as opposed to hearing a soundbyte dubbed over by more Western-friendly tones.
This is the future of participatory journalism. Ordinary people deciding to set up their own ventures to report. This provides way more coverage and scope than CNN and the BBC can provide – not through some bias, promotion of ambiguity or general ignorance – it simply would make no sense for broadcasters to spend all their resources and effort on constantly monitoring the world yet further than they already do, when they can buy it from the Joe Bloggs who was there at the time.
The whole issue of citizen journalists and their payment would make a whole other post but either way, I hope I’ve outlined some of the importances and impact citizen journalism doesn’t just have on media in the UK, but on a global scale. One day, a one minute clip taken on your mobile just because you were at the scene of something, could be broadcast to literally billions of people in a matter of minutes. That’s the seed of citizen journalism but it has the potential to be so much more.