Citizen journalism: you might not like what you see
Social media proved itself an an extraordinary tool today with the best coverage coming out of the Jakarta bombings provided by people on the ground with mobile phones and Twitter accounts.
But today’s events also proved that no matter what you think of journalists and the major media outlets they work for - there’s a reason why we filter information and images.
There’s a photograph all over the internet right now you won’t find on any mainstream news site - and nor should you. It shows a victim of the bombing, believed to be from New Zealand, who is now being reported as having died from his injuries.
In the graphic and distressing picture he is still alive, and being tended to by someone who appears to be a local.
It was posted on the Twitter photographic site Twitpic, and has been forwarded and re-forwarded to potentially millions of people around the world. It’s the kind of image that makes you feel sick, the sort of thing two seconds after opening it you wish you’d never seen.
It’s the kind of thing picture editors in newsrooms see all day every day. They look carefully at these images, analysing the amount of blood and body parts visible. They use their own personal judgment about their news value compared to the level of distress they will cause readers.
They go home at night with them running on high rotation in their minds, and they do it so you won’t have too much trouble getting to sleep.
But now that filter has been effectively removed.
The person who took the photo doing the rounds on Twitter had gained nothing from the picture - other than perhaps the intangible feeling every human being gets when they know something someone else doesn’t, or have something no-one else has.
It’s that feeling that is driving the relatively new phenomenon known as citizen journalism. Unfiltered by newsrooms full of trained journalists, we’re getting coverage of big events that is more timely than ever, more diverse than ever, and evidently, more raw than anything we’ve ever seen before.
It proved its enormous power last month during the aftermath of the Iranian election, when young people in Tehran, cut off from the rest of the world by an oppressive regime, caught our attention with their Twitter posts.
Again a graphic image was at the centre of the coverage. The dying moments of Neda Agha-Soltan was captured on video and posted online, and she became the touchstone for a world-wide movement online in support of the protesters.
It could be argued the very public documentation of her death had some value.
You can’t make the same argument about today’s photographic atrocity. I highly recommend you don’t go looking for it. But those who really want to see it won’t have any trouble finding it.
This Monday The Punch is doing a special on social media. South Australian Premier Mike Rann is writing on the pitfalls of social media use for politicians, Lanai Vasek from news.com.au documents how Twitter is ruling her life, and we’ll be analysing the value of the social media phenomenon.
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