Citizen journalism: not for stupid people and perverts

A photographer friend, a couple of years ago when he was just starting out in the field of photojournalism, bewailed how difficult and competitive his chosen field had become through the years. “The advent of digital imaging technology is at fault, of course,” he lamented. “To the point that everyone who can afford the relatively cheap technology can easily become a photographer.” Now he’s a bigshot photographer for a major daily, and though I seem him rarely, I don’t imagine him venting the same frustrations anymore. Photojournalism is still a discipline of the select few who have the opportunity to study it in the few universities who have qualified instructors, or who are fortunate enough to have trained their chops in campus publications. And of course, the gear is still quite expensive.

Journalism is by tradition a pretty elitist discipline. Or at least in mainstream practice, where among the vets, you can’t call yourself a journalist unless you’ve toiled long and hard enough in (what they consider) the lowliest beats. You’re not one of them if you don’t play by their rules or if you don’t get invited to their weekly badminton matches.

Which is why as far as mainstream practices go, the concept of citizen journalism is a welcome development. Technology has played a big part in making this a reality, with point-and-shoot digicams and cellphone cameras (with prices all within reach to the average middle class), not to mention internet connection getting more and more common, transforming everyone with access to these into potential citizen journalists.

The downside of this technological surge in the current social setup, however, is that the gadgets can be used for really nasty stuff. For every citizen journalist capturing rare images that can possibly shape public opinion for the better (think Abu Ghraib photos), there are thousands, even millions, who use the tech to promote really stupid things. The phenomenon of blogs, often hailed as the catalyst for democratizing journalism and publishing, have also coincided with the further proliferation of conservative and downright reactionary ideas, not to mention utterly filthy stuff. During the 70s, among the most scandalous events to rock the establishment was the audio recording of Hollywood starlet Dovie Beams making sweet love to Ferdinand Marcos. Nowadays, technology has played a much more prominent role in political scandals. The Hello Garci scandal first comes to mind. Even the hellstorm that is the NBN-ZTE deal (with technology, or access to it, at the core of the issue) broke wide open because Jun Lozada managed to text his relatives of his kidnapping.

In the last two examples, the tech is put to use for the greater good. We, however, only have to consider the tragedies such as the one that rocked the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center* in Cebu City and a certain young actress** from a prominent showbiz clan to realize the dangers of digicams and phonecams when put to perverted use by stupid people.

*TV news reports of a video (purportedly using a cellphone) of doctors at the VSMMC chearing on while operation on a man who had a bottle stuck on his anus. The video has hit YouTube.

**For reasons that has something to do with Google and the realization that I may inadvertently contribute to her further victimization, the young actress whose supposed nude photos have appeared on the Web courtesy of her pervert American boyfriend will not be named in this entry.


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