Archive for July, 2012

It has been a week since the shooting in Aurora, CO during the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.  I cannot add any new words to how I personally feel about the incident that haven’t already been spoken by others, but the ones that stick out in my mind are “senseless” and “sickening.”  However, I’m not here today to talk about this tragedy and similar ones, or to criticize society because of it.  What I want to bring attention to is how this event has been chronicled and portrayed in the mainstream press, and what images will live on to make people remember this tragedy.  I watched several mainstream news channels (thanks to my friend’s satellite TV) following the incident, and I noticed through the many images that came up that it wouldn’t be the pictures of the crime scene that would be remembered the most.  Nor would it be portraits of the victims and their families, or the images of Barack Obama and Christian Bale visiting the people affected by the incident.  The most prevalent image I continued to see was the image of the shooter himself.

Christian Bale visits the families of the shooting in Aurora, CO.

In the past week,  I have seen more stories about the shooter above any other surrounding the incident.  And the pictures are all exactly the same – orange hair, red jumpsuit, and puzzled demeanor.  They seem to accompany every single story, whether it be details chronicling his life or unfolding evidence as part of the investigation.  Perhaps the most memorable one I saw was this past Tuesday, in which CNN showed a collage of four screenshots of the shooter making weird faces like the one below.  My gut reaction was, “Really, CNN?  Are you trying to make him look like The Joker?”

James Holmes makes his first court appearance in Aurora, CO.

Unfortunately, with all the news coverage going on most people will probably end up remembering James Holmes as “The Joker” of this incident due to these images being seen over and over again.  It’s ironic and sick at the same time to associate this guy with a villain from the Batman films, but this seems to be the side effect of such media stories.  Although I don’t suspect that such news coverage was intended to be sensational, the danger with such images and the frequency in which they appear is that it shifts power to the suspects.   They are the ones seen above everyone else, and to some sick individuals out there they can become pop culture icons, heroes, and even martyrs.   Take a look at the shootings in Norway and Virginia Tech.   Do you remember the faces of those who were gunned down, or do you remember a young man with his fist raised in the air?

I think we as people need to handle this tragedy for what it is.  Remember the victims who were slain, and support the families affected by this.  Let law enforcement do its work, and keep the spotlight off the suspect.

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In the last couple of months, the United States has witnessed quite a few cases of extreme weather whipping through many large communities.  The wildfires blazing in Colorado, the deluge of Debbie in Florida, and the derecho raining its madness in the DC area are among the most visible natural events that have taken the country by storm.  Whether this extreme weather is due to climate change, global warming, or simply the natural cycle of the earth is still to early to determine.  What is remarkable about these events, however, is how the visual images of these events in action as well as their aftermath have been captured by ordinary citizens and their personal digital devices.  In Colorado, the images of houses being burned in seconds were taken by residents and emergency responders on ground as they occured, and in no time these images made their way to personal cell phones, email, and social networking sites before news media even had a chance to publish their stories.  These photos and videos provided terrifying yet brilliant images of natural incidents in their raw, unfiltered state.

The High Park fire near Fort Collins, CO

The images produced from the wildfires and severe thunderstorms are contributing to a continuously evolving phenomenon.  The argument revolving around the future of journalism is being driven by the actions of normal citizens and their user generated content (UGC).  One side of the argument suggests that citizens producing UGC, particularly during serious incidents, is the responsible thing to do.  When events occur that can potentially affect a large population of people, such incidents must be broadcast in order to inform and prepare citizens to take action.  And what better people to report such information to the world than the people who are already on the ground witnessing the events taking place before their own eyes?  Such activities have occurred in society ever since audio and visual devices became available to the consumer public.  The impact of UGC (before it became known as UGC) was seen in monumental incidents such as Rodney King and the WTC Bombings.  Now, with the convergence of digital devices and internet connections, the art of broadcast and whistle blowing is happening at an instant rate.  At the same time, not only are citizens becoming informed rapidly but responders now have valuable sources of intelligence to plan and execute operations for proper handling of the incident.  By sharing vital information with the public, normal users are on their way to becoming citizen journalists.  Thus, information is now known to everyone and can be transformed into action.

 

The other side of this argument comes from the professional art in which these activities came from: journalism.  Before the iPhones and the Twitters were available for every young kid, the public relied on professionally trained journalists to provide the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  It was not only about informing the public of what was going on; it was about maintaining an honest, ethical democracy (e.g. The Fourth Estate).  It wasn’t easy for everyone to become a journalist; it took wit, determination, attention to detail, and loyalty to a professional code.  Now, as the resources that were once only used by journalists have made their way into the hands of ordinary people, the role of the journalist is now in question.  If an ordinary person is uploading photos of an event as it happens, what is the point of a college educated journalist writing a one page article about the same event a day after it happened?

Severe thunderstorm near Washington, DC.

While many have argued that journalism is on its way to death, there are some things involved in this phenomenon that create a huge dilemma.  If anything, the instance factor is the one thing that points to threaten the profession of journalism the most.  An office of photojournalists are clearly outnumbered compared to a town of 100,000 residents with smartphones galore.  People no longer have to wait to find out about the events from the press, which in effect undermines the role of professional journalists in a community.  Yet, the other major factor that still plays on the side of the journalist is that of the code: the loyalty to fair, honest reporting of the news.  This still serves as the bedrock principle of many journalists around the world, as it can often cost them their careers if facts, numbers and details are not checked.  And this serves as the most potent counterpoint to the instance factor.  Sure, anyone can post a photo of a fire in the sky, but is it ethical to instantly share such images with all your friends on facebook?  how do you know it’s the truth?  How much trust can you put in that person that this is really what’s going on?  And if things aren’t what they seem, how much negative repercussion can be produced?

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby.

The argument of the future of journalism will continue to rage between the professionals and the amateurs.  I by no means have all the answers, but one thing that I hope people will understand is that images alone are not journalism.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but without the right words, anyone can make up their own story and distort reality.  Take a look at all the internet memes everywhere – UGC at its worst, in my opinion.  What makes UGC into journalism is the story behind the images.  A well written story explaining context, people involved, and reasons why this is important to the person reading such story is what will make UGC capable of truly becoming journalism.  But who has the time to read it all?  That’s another story…

Take a look at an interesting argument on the death of journalism: Journalism is Dead!