Citizen Journalism can be a wonderful thing. It has tremendous potential for bringing to the fore ground news that would otherwise pass under the radar of mainstream media. It does not (usually) suffer the political and financial pressures that mainstream media have and it does not have to maintain a profit margin. Citizen Journalism brings out news that we find interesting and relevant and is a very good indicator of public opinion. Usually.
I for one have always been in favour of Citizen Journalists. Most of us on Kottu have our own posts on politics, human interest stories, reviews, opinions and the usual rants. We are Citizen Journalists in some form of the other, and we find that this works out well for us. But can the same disease that infects Tabloids affect us? Can the need to have the first picture, get the first blog post out, tell the first story, actually make us stretch our morals a bit? Does it damage our sense of human dignity?
I was reading an article by Paul Carr this week. He usually writes semi-satirical Tech related articles at TechCrunch, but his post this week (which has already received over 200 comments) was unusually thought provoking. He starts of with the incident at Fort Hood and then points out how at this very serious and very upsetting time, a lady was snapping pictures with the iPhone and tweeting minute by minute her opinions on what was happening. Perhaps you might say that there was nothing wrong with this, and that this is what citizen journalists do. At such a serious juncture and such a traumatic event, things would be on lock down and information would be restricted until the situation was stabilized. No one would want a woman snapping pictures of injured soldiers in a hospital and tweeting irresponsible messages to the public when even family members of the injured soldiers were not informed. Reactions to her actions were mixed, with people unhappy that she would be snapping pictures in a hospital.
One commenter even stated:
If I ever saw you taking pictures of my friends being wheeled into the hospital, I’d beat you senseless.
The lady’s (Ms. Moore) twitter account is no longer functioning but you can access her tweets here and judge her actions by yourself.
Carr also states in his article that :
the ‘real time web’ is turning all of us into inhuman egotists. How we’re increasingly seeing people at the scene of major accidents grabbing their cellphones to capture the dramatic events and share them with their friends, rather than calling 911.
Her behaviour had nothing to do with getting the word out; it wasn’t about preventing harm to others, but rather a simple case of – as I said two weeks ago – “look at me looking at this.”
Do you recall the video of Neda Agha Soltan that rocked the world and dragged the violence of the Iran protests into the forefront? Now can you imagine it from her point of view as she lay dying, all she could see were some faces and a camera pointed at her face.
While the concepts of citizens being journalists is wonderfully empowering, how far do we let that empowerment stretch our moral codes, our basic human decency. Do we rush to electronically capture a tragic moment? Is our first thought to help, or to record.
I am not saying that Citizen Journalism is bad or should be avoided. The drowning of a handicapped man in Bambalapitiya would never have come to our attention if it wasn’t for the video taken by a camera man on a roof top, but did the camera man bother to alert authorities while this was going on, or did he simply record the entire event for a sensational news cast?
I am not calling for censorship, or restriction, or any curtaining of freedom. Far from it. We have the technology now to make huge social advances, to empower people who would otherwise not have a voice, but we should not forget about our dignity and our responsibility.
Remember, your fellow man first, everything else comes later.