Citizen Journalism

PBS’ “Frontline” is doing a series called “News War: What’s Happening to the News”. Part 3 aired last night @ 9pm, but you can watch it online.

Segment 19 in part 3 is of particular interest to those of us involved in videoblogging, which is, on the simplest level, putting videos on a blog. These videos could be personal. They could be something created or acted out. They could be just about anything…. Except they could also be a documentation of something that happened. For some reason, there’s a debate surrounding the importance of this. It seems completely obvious to me that if you document something and post it for people to see….. right now…… ALL around the world…….. that makes your work just as valid, if not MORE SO than someone who has a job called “journalist” and took some courses explaining HOW they’re supposed to report things and WHAT they’re supposed to report. :/

The first part of Segment 19 features an interview with Andrew Baron, creator of Rocketboom, as well as clips featuring Joanne Colan, current Rocketboom anchor and Amanda Congdon, former Rocketboom anchor, subsequently of Amanda Across America, and now ABC News. There’s also a clip of Amanda interviewing Josh Wolf, who’s currently in jail because of “citizen journalism”.

In another segment of the show, they mention that Amanda ‘made the jump’ to ABC News. I think that’s an interesting piece to the puzzle of “us vs them”, with independents on one side and MSM on the other. I suppose that those who are interested in attempting to invalidate “citizen journalism” could argue that ABC simply hired “on-air talent”. They chose HER and not necessarily “her journalism”.

Andrew says in the piece “… it’s creating a conversation about ‘what is journalism?'”. Later on, apparently referring to text blogs, Nicholas Lemann makes the point that “… there isn’t a lot of original reporting that’s being done by bloggers and citizen journalists… digging out new stuff instead of sort of reprocessing the stuff that other people have dug out already.”

With text blogs, this may be largely true (the lack of original reporting). The bloggers for the most part are dependent upon being able to receive information through some other source, and then their “value added” is their own opinion on the topic or perhaps the fact that they aggregated information and brought it to the attention of their readers. Yes, some people are “on the scene” and report things that they saw or experienced themselves, but a lot of information comes from search engines or what they read in other blogs. This is where I can see the argument of “these people are not trained journalists” being valid because of lack of professional presentation and perhaps also lack of any form of accreditation or expertise in the field they’re blogging about. IMO, that still doesn’t invalidate their opinions or make them necessarily less accurate or worth reading…. but then, that’s what this debate’s all about. ๐Ÿ™‚

With video blogs, I think this is much less true. Granted, there are video blogs that are really videotaped versions of text blogs. Instead of typing the information they got from search engines, people sit in front of a video camera or webcam and talk about it. Not much difference from text blogs there in terms of lack of originality. ANYONE could do it who chooses to use a search engine to look up their chosen topic. What I’m talking about is the ability to show someone, anyone… somewhere, ANYWHERE (that has a viable internet connecton) something that they otherwise would not have been able to see. I don’t see any way that anyone could deny that visual and audio documentation of something that happened can be AS relevant and important, if not MORE SO than a shot, produced, scripted and edited news piece, such as the Frontline piece I’m currently commenting on.

The debate seems to revolve around who’s “qualified” to report news. ๐Ÿ™‚ Again, I can see this as more relevant to text blogging, because the words are the entire work. Depending on your delivery, your blog might seem professional or like a “church newsletter”, as Nicholas puts it. When you’re recording something to video and/or audio and presenting it on your blog, your delivery becomes much less important because the video tends to “speak for itself”.

Similar to what Andrew said, I don’t consider myself a journalist. I’m not interested in journalism AT ALL. ๐Ÿ™‚ However, as Jeff Jarvis put it, I’ve “performed acts of journalism”. Earlier this month, I was videotaping the Bronx Borough President, Adolfo Carrion’s “State of the Borough” address, and Senator Hillary Clinton happened to show up…. well… so did Senator Chuck Schumer, but who’s counting? ๐Ÿ˜€ Anyway… Later that same day, I had blogged Hillary addressing the crowd.

I documented something that happened. There’s no spin to it. The camera just rolled. No sound bites, No b-roll, No scripting… That’s what happened. I consider that to be an act of journalism. Not only that, but it’s currently available. Right Now. Right now, you can click on that picture and watch what happened and make up your own mind about what you see and/or hear. YOU weren’t invited to the speech, but *I* was, and because I documented it, you get to check it out as well. I don’t see how that’s NOT journalism. ๐Ÿ™‚

I think I had my most personally relevant experience with “citizen journalism” when someone crashed Cory Lidle’s plane into a building on 72nd street in Manhattan, NYC.

My sister called me and told me what was going on. When I checked out the local all-day news channel, I saw flames coming out of the windows of the building. I made moves to get to the scene, and by the time I did, the fire was out, but you could still see smoke coming out of one of the apartments. I probably spent a little over two hours between being there and traveling back and forth. When I got back, I turned on the same news channel, and to my dismay and education… I saw the same building I just came from seeing with my own eyes……. and it was still on fire. :/ ‘Matter of fact, they looped that video well into the evening, to the point that it was getting dark outside, and they were still showing bright, daytime video of apartments on fire. I became aware that the fire had probably been put out before I even walked out the door to go see it. :/

That’s part of the importance and relevance of “citizen journalism”. You can report whatever you feel is worth reporting. Did I have sensational video of an apartment on fire? No. The fire was out by the time I got there. Did I have sensational video of a plane on the ground? No. The whole street was blocked off, and I was on the avenue farther away from the crash. I had a video about some smoke coming out of a building that otherwise looked perfectly fine. ๐Ÿ™‚ However… That’s what happened, and that’s how it was when I got there.

Maybe I didn’t write a dramatic lead-in script and have someone trained in standard televison delivery to dramatically walk into the frame and pretend that they care. Maybe I didn’t run around interviewing people that didn’t know any more about the situation than I did so I could go back and select ONLY the sound bites that tell the story the way that *I* wanted it to be told. It doesn’t rule out my video as journalism that CBS news didn’t send me down there or pay me or give me the job title of “journalist” or give me press credentials (although their truck came in handy for my still, hehehe). All *I* know is that while my video was showing that the NYC Emergency Response Teams had the situation well under control, people were still coming home that night and turning on their televisions to be strategically fed videos of an apartment building burning in the daytime.

Bill Cammack รขโ‚ฌยข New York City รขโ‚ฌยข Freelance Video Editor รขโ‚ฌยข alum.mit.edu/www/billcammack

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