It’s been a while, but a couple of things entwined to play around my mind in the last few weeks. I have some questions as usual.
I work with, love reading, listening to and learning from citizen journalists. To clarify, for me this means the unpaid, sometimes uncredited, sometimes unnoticed by mainstream news consumers and usually non-professional reporters in all sorts of media. Made by people who are not usually trained journalists or working for a salary in that capacity. It often doesn’t make a difference to me. It brings me closer to world events in ways I could not have dreamt of as a younger nosy-parker and generally curious bod.
If you follow things about news and media or this blog from time to time, you’ll know that much of journalism is imploding. While money gets sucked out of one portal, material gets sucked into another. It’s everywhere on the web from my view point; though I hear it is possible to view the web in any way you like via your own personal filters.
In reporting about citizen journalism recently, I met virtually and in person with a couple of contributors who made me ask harder questions about what is happening with our news consumption.
To keep things brief, this will be a little furry, but here we go. Working in different organisations, there is an infrastructure. Colleagues, sub editors, copywriters, editors, managers and more. This structure is in place to keep us in check, to check what we do, to support and improve what we make and how we make it. There are technicians, engineers, innovators, producers, designers. So many people support the effort to find a way to bring information to people from well, pretty much everywhere to your television, your browser, your phone. That’s a very narrow snapshot of the mainstream.
Around this, there is a further network including unions, counsellors, friends who work the same trade – people you can talk to for good or other in order to protect and help organise what goes on. Beyond this too there are laws in most countries that protect or support media and journalism and of course there are some that do not – places where reporting events around you can be a marriage with daily threats and oppression. I am lucky, I live in a place that supports more than it suppresses.
So there’s a slightly naive frame work to start with. But it gives an idea about the mainstream. Now here’s why so much of that is vital in order to have a free press or to allow people to report their surroundings and even to tell the stories of their lives.
One of the people I chatted with had been persecuted. Sent threatening emails and eventually beaten up on the way home from work. They were warned in emails that their citizen journalist accounts with a mainstream media outlet (not one I have worked with) should be closed down, that their blog should be silenced or something bad would happen. Something bad did happen. They were attacked.
Frightened and with broken bones, they sought some support. As a blogger and citjo, there was not a lot that could be done. People investigated on their part, but they reside in a country that is only starting to develop with new technologies. Sometimes there is no electricity, so why would there be a legal infrastructure or understanding about protection and the connection between the web and their physical well-being? The case was highlighted on the internet, but they were unable to find physical protection and local police were not nearly prepared when it comes to chasing down the source of the emailed threats.
Another point to this case was that they were contributing to a site in America, a place with a much more liberal sense of reporting, but that material being online meant that the threat was in the reaction in their home country. The same laws do not apply globally of course putting them in danger from a stricter authority’s reaction.
Looking to the other conversation, I chatted at length with someone who processes material online. They look at video all day related to the current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. I have done the same with long and strict processes that help to define the provenance and content. I asked them about being prepared for seeing the images and violent content.
They were not prepared, but they were passionate. I certainly can see the will and the passion for doing the work when they are related to the topic or from the countries involved. They were also clear about their depressed feelings at seeing such things over and over again. Day after day they looked at and processed extreme video and imagery. They sounded tired, broken-hearted and not a little weary of the levels of violence they looked at for hours.
It is apparently possible that people who deal with days of violent material can be prone to something like post traumatic stress disorder. It was noted in people who watched the hours and days of footage immediately after 9/11. Watching the looped imagery on TV was enough to take effect on the audience. For one person removed from their home country to process weeks of video depicting hideous acts of violence from places they once new without support is something that has yet to be explored. I’m not entirely sure it would have happened much before, but within these boundaries and roles, we live in extraordinary times.
So, these two people, the threatened and the exposed. They are citizen journalists. They work mostly alone on these reports, posting them to blogs, to YouTube and managing Facebook accounts. There are no editors to help them decide, no colleagues to blow off steam and cross verify footage. There is no union or counsellor, though their families may help in some ways for understanding. They often work around the clock in order to spread the word and translate things, to publish material at a high standard and make it available.
Citizen journalism has changed mainstream reporting in huge ways. The content you see on your nightly news bulletins is more than likely packed with non-professional material. Created by people in the moment enabling live rolling news because everyone can be there to capture anything and of course much of the news is impossible to predict.
I may encourage the growth of citizen journalism, but I wonder if there is enough support in place. There are groups of citjos working together and supporting each other, but there are many more solo acts scattered across the web. As this sector of media grows and evolves. I wonder if there will be unions and organisations that can come to their aid when they need it most. What will the get out of jail free card be for citizen journalists and are we growing closer in our roles?
As usual, I have more questions than answers, but listening to these people, my friends online, I hope that they are able to get the support that they need if they are the first wave in citizen media and I wonder what will be in place for the next. What should be done to create a safer working environment for citizen journalists? Or, what can be done?
Yes, I have made an effort so these people remain anonymous.