Citizen journalism seemed to reach critical mass this summer when suicide bombers attacked London’s transportation system. On shattered subway cars, victims recorded the aftermath on their cellphones and e-mailed dark, grainy video and still pictures to British TV networks. It was the first time cellphone video had been widely used to cover a major news story. A month later, when an Air France jumbo jet careened off the runway in Toronto, shaken passengers once again took out their cellphones and started recording. The recent earthquake in Tokyo yielded the same results.
These events inspired many newsrooms to advertise for content. The national news networks began asking viewers to send in breaking-news images and video. A handful of TV stations, from big-market players like WABC to smaller outlets such as WTKR Norfolk, Va., also put out the call. Most say they’d be willing to pay for video—up to several hundred dollars—to secure exclusivity. Still, liability over such issues as privacy rights and defamation has yet to be settled.
TV reporters are testing out their own portable gadgets. ABC, CBS and NBC are handing out video-enabled cellphones to staffers. Later this year, ABC’s 24/7 broadband and cable network, ABC News Now, plans to outfit some reporters with Nokia’s new $900 N90, which the manufacturer says shoots VHS-quality video.
But news executives are divided on how much of a role the audience should play. Chief among their concerns: the quality and authenticity of video and pictures that viewers send in. “These are not journalists, and that scares me,” says Steve Schwaid, head of programming and news for NBC’s owned-and-operated stations. “How do I know what training they’ve had and what their relationships are?”
(Via Bill Hobbs). Good questions, and it's nice that some are asking them. My own local paper, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, seems to be ahead of the curve on this subject, too.
When I spoke to the Nashville Women's Political Caucus on this subject on Saturday, I noted the impact this may have on local politics. Especially once you're outside the 4 metropolitan areas in Tennessee (Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga) the local-media scene is usually a single monopoly newspaper and a radio station or two. Alternative media could make a difference -- in fact, if I were a political operative with a long-term view and interests in opposition to the local newspaper in a county, I'd set up something like this serving the community long in advance of any elections. The impact could be significant. I have to say that the folks at that workshop were quick to pick up on the implications.
UPDATE: Reader Eric Boyer has questions of his own:
"'How do I know what training they've had and what their relationships are?'"
In light of some of the "reporting" that's been published/shown in the mainstream media, perhaps this question should be asked of them, too.