Citizen journalists and today’s news coverage

There are millions of them, snapping, chatting and tweeting their ways into mainstream news coverage. The Citizen Journalist, armed with an iPhone or other digital device, is beating news organizations to many breaking stories.

How is this possible? Well, it’s simple. The would-be journalist is located where the news is occurring. Just like real estate, it’s about location, location, location.

News organizations, especially newspapers, have made cuts. And like a dull razor during the morning shave, these incisions have been numerous, painful and all too frequent. Into the mix come tens of millions of people carrying digital devices with high-resolution, miniature cameras snapping shots in every nook and cranny of the globe. You don’t have to worry about focus or composition; you just have to be fast … and sometimes courageous.

This morning, when looking for the day’s forecast on my local television station website, I read an interesting footnote: Please send us your hail and rain photos and tornado footage, but please be careful when recording. Wow, the station now has enlisted thousands of reporters, most of whom are in exactly the right location for a newsworthy event. And you don’t even have to worry about liability insurance for this volunteer staff.

I also watched the video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being turned over by the Taliban to U.S. forces. It wasn’t a bad recording taken by the terrorists. In fact, it was certainly good enough for Taliban TV and thousands of news outlets. Of course, I’m sure the U.S. forces had multiple cameras and satellites recording the event, too. But it’s likely our historical footage remains classified, while the Taliban’s video is making the desired propaganda splash.

It’s most likely traditional news organizations, armed with skilled videographers with 1080p cameras, will still provide well-lit, properly edited news content. But the standard of on-air video has changed forever. The street-cam is good enough for primetime. The most graphic shots of the Boston Marathon bombings were taken on cellphones, and not by mainstream news organizations. Tornado video, once rare to see, is now as numerous as sightings in the spring.

We must now accept the cold, hard fact that the citizen journalist has arrived. While he isn’t on the payroll of Gannett or Scripps, the volunteer’s video clips may be more timely and newsworthy than footage provided by the local news affiliate. And the citizen journalist doesn’t need a helicopter fitted with a Steadicam and a finely coiffed reporter in a dress jacket and blue jeans. Just click and email.

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