Non-Citizen Journalists

By Emily Craig

A US government press conference - the type of event to which only a professional journalist can gain access (Creative Commons licence)

The term ‘citizen journalist’ has become part of the media lexicon. Citizen journalists are those non-professional people out on the street who report information. And many of their reports are in video form, with their footage then uploaded online. ‘You might not be inclined to trust me’, they may as well be saying, ‘but you can see for yourself what’s going on’.

These journalists specialise in showing us what other professional journalists haven’t seen, many of whom are constrained in how they can practice their trade. Whether it’s a case of filling in a 40 page employee risk assessment or compromising on a story to maintain a working relationship with a press office, the professional journalist is not always a free agent. As Channel 4 reporter Jonathan Miller describes, officially-registered journalists are often corralled into attending dull press conferences or herded en masse to staged events. Meanwhile the real story, the news, is happening somewhere else out of sight.

That’s often the time when citizen journalists, with light equipment and local contacts, can get on with their reporting. At the very least, they’re more likely to be in the right place at the right time – and not on the coach tour. In such circumstances (a conflict zone, a foreign country, a remote or closed community), the local, citizen journalist probably has contacts that the professional journalist lacks.

So is the professional journalist a dinosaur doomed to extinction? There are scenarios when citizen journalists are able to showcase the best of their work and, by comparison, the professionals appear lost. But whilst at one level we are witnessing the ‘democratisation’ of journalism, many of the events reported as news are closed off to citizen journalists. A press pass means that you’re a member of an exclusive club – and big events like a national political debate or an entertainment awards ceremony are members-only. In these situations, citizen journalists find themselves ‘disenfranchised’.

Broadcasters are confident that by default they own the monopoly rights to sports and entertainment video journalism and the huge commercial investment that accompanies it. A broadcaster can guarantee stars and sponsors high-quality footage and maximum viewers. What is more, only a professional journalist will be cleared by security. The same broadcasters and agencies are then able to share their videos socially on internet sites like YouTube and UStream where citizen journalists also go to upload content.

For national politics, sport and entertainment, there are different rules for video journalism in comparison to other forms of online media. Anyone can sit at home and live-blog whilst watching a political conference or a football game on the television, but video requires someone to be there on the ground and in sight of what’s happening. The superbowl, the Oscars, the UK political leaders’ debates – people want expert footage of these events, with slow-mo replays or reaction shots. This kind of occasion calls for (more) expensive equipment and a team of journalists to film different angles on the shoot. There’s not much point hanging around at the back door or lingering on the sidelines.

So the big broadcasting beasts are getting social. They’ve paired up with the likes of YouTube for the Oscars and the US political debates. What’s a citizen journalist to do? There’s always ‘the alternative view’ – not from inside the tent, but outside it. A search for ‘political debate’ on video-sharing website Vimeo offers a variety of spoof takes on the format. And there’s always the need for analysis and interpretation…

At the moment, it looks like video journalism is not quite the democracy it might appear to be.

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Video journalism – on the radio???

By Phil Georgiadis

Building on Chris Creegan’s post about the role of video journalism on radio station websites, for our latest post Video Journalism Online has been speaking to the BBC’s Vassos Alexander about the ever expanding use of video content on the 5 Live website.

Vassos is the voice of sport on the 5 Live Breakfast show, and also presents many of 5 Live Sport’s outside broadcasts from around the world.

Vassos told us that video content is a key growth area on the website: ‘5 Live are trying to offer a fresh and distinctive product online, and an important part of that is our live streams of the shows. Not only can you, of course, listen live and back to programmes on the iPlayer, but you can also watch them, as they go out, live.’

Vassos continued that ‘this is a completely different way of offering content to the consumer, and I think it has been very successful’.

But what about the presenters themselves? Does the increasing role of video content change the way they broadcast?

‘To be honest, we forget that the cameras are there and get on with it, we aren’t treating it like TV, and constantly thinking where the cameras are and so on. I mean the thing is, essentially all your are seeing is a load of people in a studio talking into the mics, we aren’t looking into the cameras or anything, the audio still drives the experience- but web users seem to like being able to see what we’re doing’.

In addition to this, the 5 Live website offers highlight clips of big name guests in the studio, which allows one to watch edited clips of programmes.

There is a lot of discussion on this blog and elsewhere considering the relationship between TV and web video- but it seems that the radio is successfully getting in on the act too.

You Chose the News- Skynews.com TV

By Phil Georgiadis

The blurring boundaries between TV news and online journalism- a new phenomenon which has only taken off in the past year or so? Maybe not.

Between 2007 and 2010 Sky News aired a half hour long evening programme called ‘SkyNews.com’, presented by the brilliant Martin Stanford, which brought the web’s agenda onto our TV’s for the first time.

As the channel proudly proclaimed, it was a groundbreaking programme, which ‘set out to change the shape of television news by integrating the web and TV’. Sky and Stanford realised that web content worked well on TV, and also that streaming TV content online offered access to a wider audience.

It won a prestigious Royal Television Society gong in 2008 for innovation, with the judges praising it because “it lets the public rather than the news editor set the agenda.”

Well before it was the accepted norm for channels to stream their content live online it simulcast on TV and on the Web, and even offered exclusive content for web viewers while the main TV channel was off on advert breaks.

The show would track topics which were ‘trending’ across the web, and offer a rundown of the day’s viral videos, taken from sites such as Youtube. It also took a serious journalistic interest in the internet, and how it was increasingly shaping the news agenda.

It created a ‘user-generated agenda’ well ahead of its time, and is missed.

Take a look at the clips below to get an idea of how the show worked:

Setting Up Citizen Journalism

By Alex Dibble

Your role and mine in shaping the world of online media

Since a camera was first added to a mobile phone, citizen journalism has come alive. A story without an image is much less of a story (at least in the eyes of online media organisations) than a story accompanied by visuals.

And so with a mobile, Joe Bloggs suddenly had the potential to generate online news content.

Stephen Jio is the eBusiness Programme Manager at Dell, and says that “no discussion about citizen journalism can happen without talking about the photo taken by Janis Krums on the 15th January 2009.”

On that date a US Airways airliner crash-landed in the Hudson, with all passengers and crew surviving. Krums happened to be crossing the river on a ferry, and took this photo.

The image has come to all but represent the new media phenomenon. If you search ‘citizen journalism’ on Google images, it’s right at the top.

Within 24 hours it had been viewed more than 40,000 times. More importantly, it was used by news media around the world. It couldn’t have been a better shot.

While that’s a fantastic photo, we’re here to uncover the role of video in online journalism.

Smart-phones have made citizen journalism incredibly easy from a video point of view: get your phone out, record something and upload it. All in a matter of minutes.

The value of this user generated video content will be the subject of future posts.