Friday, September 10, 2010


When the anonymous person with a phone camera filmed the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan during the Iranian protests in February he or she knowingly captured a visual record of a moment that told the story of a larger story that everyone involved with at any level knew was news. Long Island university awarded the anonymous phone person its prestigious George Polk journalism prize.

The video was powerful sad provocative utterly digital-era and it was news. Was it journalism?

Gawker's John Cook turned the  question around in a post called "Does Journalism Still Exist?": 
The recording and uploading of Neda's death (she's become known by her first name) was an act of heroism, and the video became an iconic testament to the brutality of the Iranian regime that killed her. But it was literally the product of someone standing there with a cell phone. It is distinguished from, say, everything else on YouTube not by the thought, or planning, or talent that went into producing it but by the significance of the event that it chronicles. And though we don't know who made it, it's safe to assume that it was a bystander—not someone who inserted themselves into the protest with the intention of telling the world about what they saw, but someone who happened to be there and had the presence of mind to pull out his or her phone.

The question of whether or not the video qualifies as "journalism" doesn't really matter—it exists, it's a document. Someone made it and now everyone can see it. Maybe it's journalism, maybe it's "citizen journalism," maybe it's just a video. But when you start handing out awards that were created to "honor special achievement in journalism" with an emphasis on "investigative and enterprise work that is original, requires digging and resourcefulness and brings results" to works that consist of finding yourself next to a horrible thing and pulling your camera phone out of your pocket—well, what's the point of calling anything journalism anymore?

There isn't one! But that's claim that you expect to hear from folks who celebrate the deprofessionalization of the news media and increased unmediated access to mass communications technology. When it comes from the proprietors of a 61-year-old award that's long served as part of an institutional infrastructure that vests control of the news environment to a cloistered caste of pedigreed journalists, it's kind of confusing. Self-undermining, even.
Newspaper business models continue to struggle. Blogs have evolved and are evolving. Fox News is the most popular outlet in the United States. Do journalists know any better than journalism consumers how to define journalism today? Do they know how to make journalism? Do web surfers know how to read it?  Technology has changed journalism by changing news producers and distributors and consumers. News producers and distributors and consumers are changing journalism technology.

What are you getting yourselves into? 

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