A changing world
Recently Al Jazeera broadcasted a documentary shot entirely on an iPhone. It is a turning point –another one- that clarifies the way things are going for media companies, whether they like it or not. It has been a long way since the beginning of citizen journalism and it hasn’t been easy.
Citizen journalism has been seen with a mix of terror, distrust and necessity by the traditional media for a long time. They despised the quality of the videos but needed the footage, and they were afraid citizen journalists would phagocyte traditional journalists. To be fair, when all this started, clips submitted by users were generally scarce, of bad quality and rare to find.
So, they weren’t a real threat to the big media behemoths and their powerful muscle, with strings all over the world. It was luck and a sort of planetary alignment who played a decisive factor in getting a news clip published: you needed to be the only one there when something happened and have a camera at hand or running and pointing in the right direction.
But since camcorders started to become more and more powerful, available and cheaper, those barriers fell down too. Quality improved overnight and suddenly anyone with a home video camera could hit a jackpot. Luck still played a role, but that is out of control for anyone who is not actively looking for news.
One of the turning points I remember for citizen journalism was the accident of the Concorde in Paris in 2000. At the time, the only footage from the crash came from a home video shot in a camcorder from a moving car. Later would come 9/11 and some well known videos. In both cases, TV networks managed to get their hands on other sources afterwards, but the only immediate available footage was shot by citizen journalists or CCTV.
The widespread of mobile phones with cameras saw an increase in the number of videos making their way into news programmes. Suddenly everyone had a camera in their pockets at any time and getting newsworthy material was as simple as take your phone out and start shooting. With the new phones shipping cameras capable of recording in HD, the quality barrier has fallen down too.
However, many traditional journalists still fear or despise citizen journalists. A traditional reporter working for Al Jazeera –interestingly, the same company mentioned at the beginning of this article- recently expressed her concerns in an open table in the Frontline Club in London. The moderator –a BBC technology editor- joined her in the argument.
It is clear that although the change has started many will find it difficult to adapt to it. The role of traditional journalists might shift slowly to that of a curator or editor, at least when it comes to some breaking news.
What do you think about it? Where do you think citizen journalism is going? And traditional journalism?