Find some examples of news stories where ‘citizen journalism’ has exposed or highlighted abuses of power.OCA, Photography 2: Context and Narrative, p. 23
How do these pictures affect the story, if at all? Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?
Write a list of the arguments for and against. For example, you might argue that these pictures do have a degree of objectivity because the photographer (presumably) didn’t have time to ‘pose’ the subjects, or perhaps even to think about which viewpoint to adopt. On the other hand, the images we see in newspapers may be selected from a series of images and how can we know the factors that determined the choice of final image?
Think about objectivity in documentary photography and make some notes in your learning log before reading further .
[8Jun20] Hyperallergic are reporting a new app that pixelates faces and removes metadata so that images of protesters cannot be used by authorities to identify participants.
[1Dec19] One early example of citizen journalism is Émile Zola’s 1898 open letter to the president of France published under the title J’accuse regarding the false imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus. The letter led to a pardon and his eventual exoneration in 1906.
In recent times, there are two main streams of citizen journalism, both technology based.
The first is enabled by the digitalisation of information, centralised storage and system interconnectivity, and achieved through hacking or ‘whistle-blowing’. The outcome is text-based leaks, ranging from single documents to entire databases (in the case of Wikileaks) which often feed into mainstream journalism for extracts and comments.
Of more relevance to this question is the second stream, based on the portable photo and video capability of mobile phones networked through social media.
In the case of imagery, this is used in a range of scenarios, from the national to the individual.
A national example, exposing regime oppression and injustice is the case of the Arab Spring uprisings from 2010-2012. A report by the Pew Research Center suggests that rather than, as was at first thought, social media use was most relevant in organising the rebellions, in fact, “the importance of social media was in communicating to the rest of the world what was happening on the ground during the uprisings” .
At the individual level, it is now commonplace for, as examples, protesters and drivers to video their own or their companions’ arrest if there is actual or anticipated excessive zeal on the part of the police. This parallels a development in police procedures of officers using BWVs (body-worn video) to record their own activities, a move questioned by Liberty as these permit “editing or deleting [of] footage that might incriminate police officers’ own actions” .
Regarding the objectivity of images in this context, the source is often personally involved in these events and may be photographing or filming them because they are experiencing or expecting something controversial to happen. If the photographer is a bystander, then again, they are likely to recording a specific action. Neither scenario (involved person or bystander) could be considered entirely objective, however, as pointed out in the question, the photographer is not in control of the event at the time of recording. There is the opportunity for the photographer (as with police BWVs) to edit the material before release and they will also select what specific images or footage is made available.
The channel (see Barthes in Part 1) will provide text or commentary if distributed through mainstream media or if posted by the individual through social media is likely to be given a heading and perhaps text. In all of these outlets, the commentary which accompanies the imagery will compromise the objectivity of the original. The channel itself will, by its nature (be it a particular newspaper or TV channel or a grouping within social media †) influence and in some cases categorise the recipient (for example, Guardian or Sun reader).
In conclusion, while the imagery arising from citizen journalism is commonly a straightforward, largely objective, depiction of events, the fact that is being disseminated means that its producer has a particular point to make and some form of editing is implicit in the choice of the means and medium of dissemination.
† it should be noted that the writer’s knowledge of social media is, through lack of use, minimal.
1. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and Narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
2. Brown, H., Guskin, E. and Mitchell, A (2012)The Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings [online]. Jouralism.org. Available from https://www.journalism.org/2012/11/28/role-social-media-arab-uprisings/ [Accessed 2 December 2019].
3. Liberty (nd) BODY WORN VIDEO CAMERAS [online]. Available from https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/sites/default/files/Explainers-BWV_1202.pdf [Accessed 2 December 2019].