The Era of Mobile Photojournalism

image001As the tsunami of the digital era engulfs the globe; everything is being masked under a digital label, including photojournalism. The trend featured in this article is the new wave of mobile photojournalism.

What has the proliferation of video and camera-phone photojournalism meant for the medium?

Intrigued by the evolving digital wave around me, I stumbled across Bill Adee; Chicago Tribune’s Digital Editor who provides an interesting analogy:

I would say the proliferation of video, etc., has affected visual journalism the same way blogs and twitter have affected print/Web journalism.

We need to realize what can be done well by citizen photographers/videographers and find creative ways to organize and present it for our readers. We also need to realize that there is plenty that can be done well by the full-time trained journalists. The key is to take ego and traditions and conventions out of the equation and made good decisions about who should be doing what.

image002I took my next turn towards Marc Karasu of MAK Marketing and Advertising Consulting. Marc has hands on experience with both old and new media, including some of the best known brands. His profile includes the creation of Super Bowl television commercials and Google adword media buys. In response to my trend question, Marc noted:

Some would argue that this proliferation of user generated video has “cheapened” or “diluted” journalism by taking it out of the hands of pros and turning coverage over to amateurs. I would argue that it has actually helped lift journalism overall as these devices and mediums have made news more immediate, unfiltered and powerful.  This is especially true in countries where there are strong state filters on news.

That being said, it is up to professional journalists to properly frame and give background context to the story and the nuances of the players involved and different sides of the story when they air a video in media.

image008Next in line was Mark Glaser’s Ü ber interesting website; MediaShift based on the digital media revolution, which demonstrates how bloggers and citizen journalists are altering the way we see and hear news today. In his article, Photojournalists Will Survive in Era of Citizen Photogs, Mark brings to the table Mark Hamilton; Journalism instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and a former Journalist who remarks on where photojournalists stand in the evolving photojournalism field:

“Photojournalists do something a lot of us can’t – immerse themselves in lives and issues and bring back images that are not only true and touching but, in the best cases, iconic,” …”Maybe if the citizens are willing to shoot the easy stuff, our photogs can be freed up to do the difficult, essential storytelling.”

Mark Glaser adds in his insight as well:

Professional photojournalists might find themselves doing more than shooting pictures in the future. They might end up helping to filter the vast array of citizen photos, or help train those citizen photogs to improve their work. They could be more like team leaders helping to motivate citizen photographers to shoot better shots and get the shots that they can’t get.

image009Washington Post columnist, Sebastian Mallaby in Looking Back at Big Brother, writes about this precise proliferation of camera phones:

A video camera held the L.A. police accountable when it captured the beating of Rodney King. A photographer exposed the cost of the Iraq war by capturing pictures of American soldiers returning in coffins from the Persian Gulf. Ubiquitous cameras explain how the torture images of Abu Ghraib saw daylight. In the future, when a government accuses someone of wrongdoing on the basis of footage from surveillance cameras, that government better get it right. Chances are the same incident will have been captured by private citizens on camera phones, whose manufacturers expect to sell 186 million units this year.

The proliferation of electronic eyes is probably inevitable, but that’s no reason to despair. Governments will watch citizens, but citizens will watch back. More likely than not, the balance of power will shift in favor of the citizens, the inverse of Orwell’s prophecy.

image006Digital Media world’s experts; Marc Karasu, Mark Glaser, members of Journalism academia; Mark Hamilton and Digital editors, like Bill Adee all predict a positive future for photojournalists.

The emergence of video and camera phone journalism might have engendered citizen photographers, but it does not threaten the medium nor its forerunners a.k.a professional photojournalists. Aligning with Marc Karasu, it’s noteworthy to highlight the significance of the proliferation of new media in countries, where government filters prevent authenticity of news broadcasting. In recent times, we have repeatedly witnessed several journalists being shunned by state governments, when caught in action. This is when citizen photojournalists come into play.

Before offering my concluding statements, I would like to flip the coin. With pros there are cons, thus there is bound to be a niche out there that will try and abuse this new brand of photojournalism. Quite recently, a pair of students faked a photo essay winning the Paris Match Prize. The Independent reported; Student hoax wins magazine’s top prize:

The excellent black and white photographs of students prostituting themselves or looking for food in dustbins won the magazine’s annual prize for student photojournalism. Student poverty certainly exists in France but the photos were entirely faked. Before they received their trophy and €5,000 (£4,260) cheque at a ceremony on Wednesday, the prize-winners, Guillaume Chauvin and Rémi Hubert, read out a statement admitting to the hoax, stating that they had wanted to make a “powerful artistic gesture” attacking the “voyeurism” and gullibility of parts of the press.

“We pushed the clichés to the limit. We thought the whole thing was so hackneyed that it could never win … We wanted to call into question the inner-workings of the attitude of the kind of media which portrays human distress with complacency and voyeurism,” they said.

image005Additionally, start-up news organizations, like Current TV, which feature short programs or ‘pods’ created by viewers are not able to offer their employees the same level of security offered by bigger banners, like BBC and CNN. Hence, no form of diplomatic maneuvering has so far worked in the favor of Current TV’s journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who recently got sentenced for 12 years in North Korea. However, Roxana Saberi, who was also quite recently charged on similar accounts in Iran; was able to gain release, as she was backed by international news networks, like the BBC, ABC and Fox News.

image014The proliferation of camera-video phone photojournalism has allowed for an unprecedented knowledge sharing experience, where both the media and the citizens have a chance to equally interact with each other. We are no longer dependent on governments and news broadcasting monopolies to hear news or see images. Every person equipped with a camera phone is able to broadcast news, images and pile them together to compose stories. In that sense, this mobile journalism revolution has greatly benefited citizens of countries, where freedom of speech has never been practiced shifting the conventional photojournalism in an ever evolving direction; one that allows for any moment to be captured anytime, anywhere. Considering journalists remember their priorities and deliver reliable news and audience uses right judgment in sifting through the mass of photojournalists; the photo component of photojournalism is equally if not more contributing to the reputation of its surname; journalism.

image011Shifting the ball in your court; put yourself in the shoes of a tabloid photographer, how do you think the proliferation of affordable, portable phones equipped with cameras and video technology will impact your world?

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