Week 3: the Rise of Citizen Journalism

We were asked to comment on the rise of citizen journalism, partly with reference to an article about the photographer Damon Winter’s use of a smartphone for combat reportage in Afghanistan, and to another article by Stephen Bull. This is what I wrote in the discussion forum:

Camera phones are very powerful tools, largely now because of video, and will only improve. They are also more discreet than big cameras, safer to use in some places, and promise instant comms online. The aesthetics of camera-phone imaging are a rich and ever-changing brew of computer gaming (underestimated influence among young men, especially for combat reportage?), fashion, brand marketing, cult movies and shows, comics/anime, social media memes, etc. At first camera phones seemed strange but are now taken for granted. Using one is a question of choosing the right tool for the job, for the story. A camera phone was clearly the right tool for Damon Winter.

Among many challenges are a change in aesthetic appeal from polished photojournalism to rough and ready action stuff. But this begs the question of what an audience thinks of as real, authentic, authoritative – all changing, flexible terms open to influence. Ethical challenges are presenting war and atrocity as entertainment – a “hauntological” distancing device – or even inflaming situations to obtain better footage. Reportage challenges are opting for sensationalism instead of a story and seeing the “citizen witness” as a kind of post-factual end in itself, rather than as a potentially valuable first-hand account to be used as part of a larger, facts-based news-gathering process. Citizen journalism is often of benefit and is here to stay, and the ruthless economics of the news biz make it appealing material. Camera phones are a great tool but we must still tell our truth filters or no.

Bull, Stephen (2012). “Digital photography never looked so analogue” in Photoworks (spring/summer 2012). Brighton: Photoworks

Myers, Steve (2011). “Damon Winter explains process, philosophy behind award-winning Hipstamatic photos”. https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2011/damon-winter-explains-process-philosophy-behind-award-winning-hipstamatic-photos/