Find some examples of news stories where ‘citizen journalism’ has exposed or
highlighted abuses of power.
How do these pictures affect the story, if at all? Are these pictures objective? Can
pictures ever be objective?
Write a list of the arguments for and against. For example, you might argue that these
pictures do have a degree of objectivity because the photographer (presumably)
didn’t have time to ‘pose’ the subjects, or perhaps even to think about which
viewpoint to adopt. On the other hand, the images we see in newspapers may be
selected from a series of images and how can we know the factors that determined
the choice of final image?
Think about objectivity in documentary photography and make some notes in your
learning log before reading further.
To be honest, the challenge I encountered doing this exercise was the first sentence and notably, where on earth do I find examples of ‘citizen journalism’ exposing abuses of power? For me it raises more questions than it answers. However, the more I thought about it I realised with the ever developing world of modern news media and ‘breaking news’ reports more often than not they have contributing media/’participatory journalism’ be it visual through phone photography, videos or eye witness statements and interviews. A large majority of the population carry a smart phone with the ability to capture snapshots or video at the click of a button, upload to the web to a variety of social media sites and email it around the world to news outlets. I also found people use platforms such as YouTube to express opinions through video to upload videos or people use Blogging sites.
A Google search for ‘Citizen Journalism Examples’ brought back a list of websites around the world, a lot of the links didn’t work and some of them tried to kill my computer but others linked me to supposedly legit Citizen Journalism websites. None of which were really of any particular interest. Another challenge with the web is how do I know for sure that the images are in fact Citizen Journalism and not something else entirely?
I can however think back to many examples where I have sat and watched breaking news items as they come in to the newsroom and how the media uses photographs from ‘eye witnesses’ or videos and witness interviews for significant events. For example most recently with the elections in the US and the very heated election campaign that took place, people were coming from all angles with different ‘evidence’ on each of the main candidates to try to smear their campaign, some saying they were eye witnesses to past events to try to swing the vote. News items like the Badger Cull, Fracking, Brexit, Wars, Global Warming and the Environment, Geopolitics, the apparent housing crisis in the UK, Refugees the list goes on.
I have to question how objective, unbiased or impartial a person can really be through citizen journalism. Do they have another motive? Are they trying to influence other people, put their opinion onto other people? Effect a result. From my experience as an observer a lot of this form of media is through first hand encounters or being involved directly with an event. Are they simply reporting on the news/event? Or are they trying to sway an opinion? What other factors are coming into play? I guess what I want to know is, how do I know this is the truth? How do I know this is not manufactured propaganda? Is a photograph always or ever the truth or a reliable evidence? How are they held to account and where is the scrutiny? Just because someone says something, doesn’t make it true. Of course all of these questions could be directed at the mainstream media as well.
For me truth comes through evidence and questioning that evidence for authenticity , if possible through multiple sources with a variety of types; written, photographic, video, testimonial, eye witness etc, etc. Having some set of standard principles, ethics or code of practice.
Arguments for and against citizen journalism
- Not tainted by mainstream media opinion or editors.
- Free information.
- Local news told by local people.
- Giving ‘regular people’ the platform to voice or visualise their opinion
- The ability to hold large corporations, organisations or governments to account through evidence based journalism.
- Reporting on news which may be brushed under the carpet or under-reported by mainstream media.
- Connecting the global community through social media.
- Not restricted or restrained by a code of practice or ethics. Photograph/Film anything.
- With more people reporting the net of evidence collecting expands; more viewpoints, more varieties of media capture.
- Citizen Journalism can be there in the moment right as it happens, before any mainstream media even knows it is happening. The ability to be where some journalists can’t get to or don’t want to go.
- It may give an entirely different opinion to mainstream media which may in fact be more accurate!
- No code of practice, standards or agreed ethical, approach (as above swings on both sides of the argument).
- No accountability or Scrutiny.
- How do you check the authenticity and accuracy of the photograph or material?
- Capturing everything, doesn’t mean you are capturing the important things.
- May only be capturing the stuff they want their viewers to see rather than a balanced perspective showing both sides, evidenced!
- The photograph may have been altered in Photoshop, something may have been removed, added or changed.
- Subject to personal opinion and risk of being subjective.
Can a photograph lie? Is a photograph a reliable truth? This has been an interesting exercise to start with, it has certainly got me thinking.