Citizen Journalism Set For A Boost

With a new range of affordable digital camcorders hitting the shelves this week, NMK takes a closer look at the continuing rise of ‘citizen journalism’.

This week, NMK met with Ray Sangster, the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) President for Flip Video, the firm behind the US’s biggest-selling digital camcorder line.

The company has just launched its Flip Mino in the UK which, at £119.99 a pop, it hopes will prove to be a popular stocking filler this Christmas, and which Sangster says will make capturing and sharing moments that much easier. Flip Video’s devices have been used by the likes of Stella McCartney and Oprah Winfrey, and are fast becoming a key tool for journalists in the digital age, according to Sangster.


Flood of Information

“The Morpeth Herald used a Flip Ultra [the Mino’s predecessor] to film the recent floods up there and it’s being used by war correspondents all over the world,” Sangster said. “The Flip Mino is ideal for today’s iPod generation who live their lives online and for whom sharing experiences online is an everyday occurrence.”

The company expects to announce soon that a major news network will be dishing its product out to journalists.

With potentially thousands of recording devices out in the public domain media networks stand an even great chance of capturing footage of events before their reporters arrive on the scene, Sangster said.


One journalist with a view on Flip Video is the BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones. He recently used a Flip Video device during an experiment at a trade show and believes that citizen journalism has an important part to play in modern reporting, although networks have to be careful with the content they broadcast.

“There was initially a huge wave of enthusiasm over citizen journalism but I think we’re now being more cautious about what is delivered,” he told NMK. “Professional journalists need to be up with this kind of reporting. There are contributors whose [filming] skills could be just as good as professionals, and at a major event – certainly early on – user-generated content is very useful.”

Citizen journalism can sometimes be misleading, he warned, citing a recent occasion when Apple CEO Steve Jobs was rumoured to have been rushed to hospital with an apparent heart attack. The story turned out to be false, but not before Apple’s shares had taken a dive.

Cellan-Jones wrote of that event: “The border between professional and amateur journalism is getting more blurred. But if a professional news organisation publishes an inaccurate piece by an amateur journalist, whose reputation suffers?”

Next Generation Reporting

The University of Westminster’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communications uses more professional recording devices when training its students. Geoffrey Davies, Head of Department, teaches his students to think beyond ‘traditional media’ and agrees that public content needs to be properly vetted.

“You have to be so careful nowadays,” he warned, citing the case of James McGrath, former aide to London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was caught out by a ‘citizen journalist’ making apparently disparaging comments and was urged to leave his post. “Off the cuff remarks can be misrepresented to appear not as they were intended.”

Davies believes that citizen journalism opens up new opportunities for young would-be hacks. “Look at the likes of Current TV, Al Gore’s channel, or the Community Channel, these sites really offer great opportunities for young journalists to showcase their talent,” he said.

Cellan-Jones concluded that citizen journalism would continue to play an important role in the world of 24/7/365 news reporting, but could never replace the trained professional. “Citizen journalism provides a pool of potential material but if I had to choose between a wobbly mobile phone image and a professional cameramen, I’d take the latter,” he said.

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