Archive for the ‘Digital Media’ Category

Just as 3D was making it’s comeback into the 21st Century, a new viewing experience has taken Point Of View (POV) videography into a new realm. 360 video recently made its way onto YouTube and other streaming sites, and for all intents and purposes it is possibly the most realistic viewing method that is not virtual reality. Ironically, some people are even dubbing it the truest form of virtual reality.

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Many YouTubers might have already seen the viral video taken by the Mythbusters showing a sunken ship surrounded by hordes of sharks (see below). In this video, the divers capture the underwater scene using POV cameras. As the video rolls, the controls on the YouTube viewer allow the user to move the camera angle 360 degrees.  You can count all the sharks for yourself!

The viewing experience is probably best viewed on mobile devices. When viewing the same video on a smartphone, the user not only change the point of view using the touch of a finger but can also change the angle by physically moving the phone around. Just type in 360 video on Youtube and try it our yourself…

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Since early this year, many videographers worldwide have embraced this new form of capturing real life experiences, from adventure seekers to bands and artists. A balloon ride becomes an all inclusive world tour in the palm of your hand.  Fort Minor (remember the rapper from Linkin Park?) gives a 360 degree glimpse into the boardwalk of Venice Beach.  Even a few Star Wars fans have created 360 trailers for The Force Awakens, which might not be a “real” world, but to Star Wars fans it is.

How is 360 video made? The method is similar to panoramic methods used for still photographs, except in this case the cameras are HD POV cameras. An improvised frame is built to hold multiple tiny POV cameras, creating a device that looks like a pine comb.  The lenses on each POV camera are very wide, allowing a great depth of field for intersecting one another. The video is recorded, downloaded and then combined to interlock the footage from each camera, creating a seamless streaming video that can be viewed from any angle.

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So is 360 video really that awesome of an experience? I will say that there are some flubs that need to be worked out. For one thing, most 360 videos tend to create a very dizzy experience. When you’re trying to watch a fast moving motorbike while looking up, down, left and right, you’re bound to be puking by the end of the ride. As if GoPro didn’t already create a movement of dizziness, now with 360 video there is no focal point to set your eyes to. With this I don’t see any major motion picture directors embracing 360 video in the near term, as virtually everyone who views it would have a different viewing experience based on what they chose to view.

Additionally, 360 video is pretty big byte-wise. Most videos that are shot in HD can’t be viewed the same way on certain devices, thus degrading the quality of the experience. It’d be wonderful to view the world in virtual HD all the time, but not everyone can have their way.

360 video might have its usefulness in practical situations. I see a lot of potential for this in research studies, law enforcement and military operations. Even if audiences are separated geographically, they can have a window to see distant locations via 360 video.  Imagine if the President had this kind of technology during the raid on Osama Bin Laden…

All in all, I think 360 video is pretty cool, but I don’t think I can watch more than 2:00 minutes of it at a time.

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Metal sucks. It is without a doubt an opinion held by most normal music listeners AND metalheads alike in one form or another. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to that opinion. A band can have 20-string guitars or 300 bpm blast beats in their songs, but to most people around the world the thing that drives the “sucking” status of metal nowadays is always the ever-annoying vocals. Whether its power-melodic, Dio-esque opera belting or Godzilla-soundtrack-goes-live growling, the vocalist of a metal band is often the deciding factor that makes or breaks a band, and in the current metal scene most metal vocalists seem to be breaking down all too much.

With the status of metal on a gradual decline, metal musicians everywhere are looking to bend the horizons while staying relevant and respectable in an ever-changing music scene. There is no shortage of talent among metalheads, many of whom are classically trained musicians. However, composing metal tracks that are technical, listenable, and enjoyable all in one is a great challenge, especially when seeking to reach a diverse audience worldwide. And lets face it – a very small population would immediately embrace a band fronted by a tough guy yelling unintelligible words about pushing the world away.  To overcome this hump, a collection of metal musicians are taking a simple yet dramatic approach: ditch the vocalists and go instrumental.

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A couple of years ago, I played in a band known as Goatstorm. While we really didn’t take our name that seriously, our music was a serious set of technical, progressive instrumental compositions. The songs were solid metal and highly expressive in their own way without being oversalted with solos or other wankery. Plus, none of them had any vocals whatsoever. Goatstorm still plays shows as a four-piece instrumental band to this day, with some of the members taking on other instrumental side projects. And not one of them has had the need for a singer…

Why are bands opting to ditch the vocals? Many reasons: less drama, no egocentric frontman, shitty lyrics, etc. Most vocalists who scream can only hold it out for about 5 years, then must undergo surgery for severe vocal strain.  Many of these vocalists have to resort to singing melodically from that point on, and if they’re not willing to learn to sing then they can kiss their career good What made Goatstorm decide to go vocal-less? To be honest, the original singer stopped showing up to practice, a simple reason to drop one member from the band. In the longer run, the band decided that the music was strong enough to stand on its own, so why spoil it with a crappy vocal track?

 

“Instrumetal” as some might call it is becoming its own scene in many ways among the larger metal crowd. True, instrumental metal has been around for decades with even the biggest metal acts dedicating one or two 10-minute tracks of nothing but powerful, vocal-less thrash.  Even sludge and doom metal bands that feature vocalists might only have a few seconds of vocals followed by 5 minutes of slow, death rock. However, at today’s metal shows instrumental acts are becoming headliners of their own. Bands such as Russian Circles, Animals as Leaders and The Algorithm are a few of those currently leading this growing scene. These bands offer not only brutally technical metal but other styles such as classical, ambient, techno, fusion and jazz to entice the non-metal audience.

 

Even musicians who were part of other established bands have broken away to pursue solo careers that feature instrument-only tracks that test the barriers of metal composition. 9-string guitarist Mike Gianelli of Dissipate/Bermuda impresses tech metalheads with his of his own brand of instrumental djent.

 

For the metal bass players out there, Evan Brewer of Animosity and The Faceless has been a pioneer for stretching the limits of bass techniques in metal music, demonstrating skill and precision to generate sounds that very few bass players out there could even imagine creating.

 

The instrumetal scene will undoubtedly keep growing for years to come and will continue to combine styles from other musical genres to hopefully keep expanding the horizons of what metal music will sound like. If there is any criticism at all of this developing scene of metal musicians, it is that instrumetal doesn’t actually have much to “say.” After all, how can a band that doesn’t have any lyrics possibly be memorable to fans or change society or bring people together? What will this music mean to people looking for the meaning of life? A noteworthy response to this is that there are vocals among the instrumetal scene, but rather than being created on stage they are created among the audience that is listening. A highly technical composition of riffs and shreds can spark a conversation full of interpretations and commentary even long after the show is over. Perhaps through this type of creativity can the metal scene pick itself back up and be a respectable art form once again.

The world is currently at war. From Israel to Iraq, Ukraine to Syria, somewhere in every corner of the globe there is a firefight. Perhaps the most influential conflict that is currently facing the U.S. is not exactly a firefight…yet. In fact, it is one that is right outside our front door. The current border crisis, which in fact has dragged on for decades, is starting to make an influx into mainstream headlines. This time, it is not only refugees from Mexico who are flooding the perimeter but children from countries as far as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Yes, it is the children coming through the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied who are making this problem into a crisis for which the U.S. must pay attention.

The stories of these children have made their way onto the pages of national news such as the New York Times and their voices heard on radio shows such as NPR News. Stories of human trafficking, rape, drug money, and smuggling involving minors are slowly beginning to enlighten the unaware, middle class American. Some on the outside would argue that the sheer volume of children under 18 years of age crossing the border has turned this from a criminal problem into a humanitarian crisis.

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Even with these accounts in mainstream news, the stories of these children will not be completely told thru these media. They need their own platform in which they can reveal to the world what is really going on in their home countries, in all of its gruesome detail. What I truly find extraordinary is that this crisis, which has existed for most of my life and although a very brutal reality, will barely even scratch the surface of social media – the place where the people who need to hear about it regularly flock. Facebook in its current form has installed so many filters and personalized content that you could virtually block everything out from your newsfeed that is not another buzzfeed about celebrities. Youtube will continue to censor content that it deems “offensive” to the good of the community. In the days of the Egypt protests, Twitter came into the spotlight as a platform for sharing with the more “aware” world of what was really going on. However, in this case I don’t believe Twitter will have the same influence in igniting that same kind of revolution the way it did in the Middle East for a few major reasons.

No Access

In Egypt online access was dominant, which made social media easily accessed to share with the world. In Central America, the same kind of access is scarce and almost nonexistent in some countries. Money to pay for internet access is tightly controlled by the regime, the upper class, and the drug cartel network, making a Twitter revolution nearly impossible for children whose families live on only $1 a week. Smartphones are very few and far between, let alone paying the fee to broadcast. These children do not have the luxury of building a network of followers the same way children of other countries do.

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Language Barrier

Even with limited access into the social media realm, very few children in this crisis will be able to tweet into the conversation to the rest of the world due to reality that not everyone speaks Spanish. While North America is slowly becoming more bilingual, a majority of the “influencers” do not have the ability or even refuse to bother learning Spanish. This goes for both the compassionate humanitarians to the strong-armed patriots. Even for someone looking to make a difference, an average American wouldn’t even begin to know where to start among the English or Spanish hashtags to hear from the children’s mouths themselves.

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Too Much Haze

What is probably going to make this crisis evolve into an all out war is the content that is currently being tweeted revolving around the political spectrum of it all. Instead of treating this as a humanitarian issue, most tweeters have taken a more political stance by calling out President Obama, Governor Rick Perry and other politicians on a failed border policy. Left bashes right, right bashes left, and so on. Images of angry politicians, protesters, militias, and political cartoons and memes dominate Twitter feeds worldwide rather than images of the kids themselves. There are messages like this:

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And ones like this:

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But where are the tweets by kids exposing what’s really going on on the other side of the border?

Why we need to give a shit

Our country, the United States of America, is one whose fabric has been sown by the immigrants who have come to this nation. There is a reason why people left the countries they came from to come to America, not because it was an “easier” life, but to escape things like violence, brutality and genocide. Our nation would not be what it is today if it hadn’t been for that chance for people to follow opportunity, live freedom, and escape tyrant governments across the world. Companies, organizations, major corporations, and families would not have the strong bonds they have without those brave souls who took the bold step to enter a land of prosperity. We are now in an age where we can communicate across borders to build a network that is just as strong if not stronger in order to help people in need. Additionally, the United States has reached a status in the world in which its people have the power and influence to take action and fix the countries from which they came.

This crisis will continue to go on unless we take action to stop it. But it will not stop by simply turning children away. We need to go to the root of the problem and answer the hard questions: what is causing these children to flee to the U.S.? What is happening in their home countries? Is it the drug cartels extending their influence, or is it corrupt governments failing the people? Why are they going to the U.S. instead of traveling further into South America? And what is the right solution for the problem?  In this case, it might require more than just a Twitter revolution, but it is still completely possible to initiate a network online. The Zapatistas of Mexico did the same thing 20 years ago with Chiapas94, so I know that such a communication network to build a revolution can be possible. I cannot tell you whether the ultimate solution will be protest, military force, humanitarian aid, or immigration reform, but I will say that something needs to be done soon or more people from multiple countries will continue to die.

I was at Fort Lee, VA a couple weeks ago for a month-long course on logistics management systems. I spent two full days learning about the Integrated Logistics Analysis Program (ILAP) and its ability to pull statuses of supply orders throughout the entire Army’s supply system. The next week I spent a day learning about the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), which also proved to show me some good assets for tracking logistics statuses and locations of supplies and transportation nodes. I came out of both classes thinking of how all of these great tools could have helped me when I was a brand new Lieutenant in the Army, when I used MS-DOS based systems to track supplies in 2007. I even sat through a briefing on the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-A) and learned about how this phenomenal new IT platform would revolutionize logistics management throughout the world.

The Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS), circa 2007.  I had a hard time using this system as there was no budget for computer mice!

The Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS), circa 2007. I had a hard time using this system as there was no budget for computer mice!

I soon found that all of the time I took to learn these systems would be subject to an ironic discovery – these “revolutionary” systems were not nearly as new as they were made out to be. ILAP has been around since the 1990s and has been used by units in Bosnia. And GCSS-Army has been in development since the early 1980s! So my next question was, why is the Army spending all this time training on systems that are decades old?

It seems that not only the Army, but the entire Department of Defense is prone to still relying on systems that were developed decades ago during the big IT boom of the early 1990s. Several platforms that combat units are using today have been developed using Windows 3.1 operating systems and often feature obsolete, analog maps and menus. Many of them are packaged in bulky cases and require large batteries to operate.  Additionally, many of these systems are “stand alone” and require removable disks to transfer data, unlike the modern Cloud programs.  These are the primary systems that troops are directed to use for major operations in combat and sustainment. Who would have ever thought that our troops on the front lines are still fighting a decade of war using 20th Century Information Technology? What is even more ironic is that most units refuse to even use these systems and instead use the familiar Microsoft and Google products they all know from everyday life.

A Soldiers uses the 20th Century Joint Capabilities Release (JCR) system prior to beginning a patrol.  An iPad packaged in an Otterbox case can process both map images and instant messages 8 times as fast.

A Soldiers uses the 20th Century Joint Capabilities Release (JCR) system prior to beginning a patrol. An iPad packaged in an Otterbox case can process both map images and instant messages 8 times faster.

Many critics have been asking how the DoD went from being an organization that developed the Internet to one that is completely behind the times. Marcus Weisgerber analyzes the situation in-depth at the Pentagon/Congressional level in this article. The major cause, it seems, all revolves around the price. The development and sustainment of the world’s most advanced technology comes at a heavy price, and one that the DoD continually does not have the money to pay. After a decade of a trillion dollar budget to pay for two bloody conflicts, the Federal Government and the American Economy have both paid a heavy price.  In the latest budget cuts to the DoD this year, The SECDEF and several of the Chiefs of Staff have all expressed that the Research and Development (R&D) divisions of the DoD would be the hardest hit by the cuts. This will lead to stagnation in new technology development, meaning that troops will be stuck with the same systems for years to come.

However, let’s look deeper at the issue. Is price really the driving force behind this stagnation in IT systems? My gut feeling is that there is money that still there but being spent on the wrong things. One particular department I know of (which will remain unnamed) just bought new tablets and digital cameras for its people recently, despite these “major” budget cuts. At the same time, offices are continuing to buy corporate-style furniture and phone systems with no cap on spending. There are countless programs throughout the DoD for which I even question their existence. The bottom line is that the money is being spent daily, but who’s really keeping track of how it’s being spent?  Just add the word “expendable” to any item, and there ya go.

BAE's Raider system will never be a reality on the battlefield because $2.5 billion per unit is just too much money.

BAE’s Raider system will never be a reality on the battlefield because $2.5 billion per unit is just too much money.

On the R&D side, it is true that the DoD cannot do all of the development themselves, and they must therefore outsource to Defense Contractors. These guys are not cheap, as they exist to maintain the profits necessary to sustain their corporate stakeholder base for a competitive global economy. However, what is really included in this price that they are charging? Is there a reason for a laptop that costs $1000 to be sold to the DoD at $10,000 per unit?  What makes this $10,000 system so much better than one made by Apple or Google?  Will it survive shock or shrapnel from a mortar round?  Is there any training that comes with the price of this system?  Will it be guaranteed to last more than 5 years?  Oh wait…

All in all, it seems that there are issues on both sides of the fence that need to be addressed. As a person who’s job it is to solve problems in the face of chaos, here are my suggestions:

1. The DoD must take a hard look at how money is being spent from the top levels all the way down to the lowest joe. There is money out there, and there might be some more free resources available than are typically seen.

2. Tap into the knowledge and skills of the end users. Don’t try to thrust an outdated system upon a group of smart kids. Find out at their level what they perceive to be a good system that fulfills their needs. If the current system works, then use that, but if a better system is out there then try it out.

3. Defense contractors need to develop quality products that are actually worth the price for which they are sold. Don’t just inflate the price because you can – that is exactly what has gotten us into this budget crisis. If you claim to support the troops, do more by making the best products at the best price. Hey, even use your international business diplomacy to influence economic prosperity around the world. Just a thought…

4. Both sides need to tighten up their shot group quickly, as it is clear that the military no longer reigns supreme in the IT game, with the civilian world clearly gaining the upper hand.  As we have learned in the past decade of war, enemies are no longer organized armies – they are home grown citizens of countries around the world.  They will use the technology assets available to their advantage – but will the military be able to react as effectively?

There is so much that one person can do in just a few minutes when they surf the net.  In a matter of moments, a person can open a new window, see what their friends are doing, review a restaurant, find a new bar, find something funny then share it with their friends, join a conversation, order tickets to a movie, watch a movie, and the list goes on… But when that person dies, their memory is forever imprinted through IP addresses, profile posts, photos, and browser history.  A timeline which once was merely a figurative term has now become a digital record, documenting every activity of a person’s life.  Every website and every other person that they interacted with becomes a record of a life that once was.

When a person dies, it is no longer revealed through a letter to the family or a phone call to the home.  The emails, the tweets, the messages and the memorial photos all fly online to reveal the news of a person’s passing.  This is shortly followed by conversations about that person through social media, some one-way and some two-way.  But within a matter of minutes, the entire world knows and the entire world begins to talk.

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With so many digital records and so many people in contact, the construction of a digital memorial is unlike any other in the modern age.  The family, friends, fans and loved ones no longer have to rely on mere memories to memorialize a person.  Through the Internet, loved ones everywhere can publish photos, video, and stories to remember the departed and at the same time share it with the entire world.  Those who never knew this person can learn about them for the first time and can even write their own words of respect and submit their own stories and artwork.  Soon an entire community can be built upon the digitized memory of a late figure.

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Of course, those who remain in this world will talk, and they will talk through every social media channel to make their point.  They will argue about who’s memory deserves more attention, who accomplished more in their lives, who’s memory deserves a national holiday, who’s funeral should the President have attended… They will use hashtags and bad grammar, make poorly constructed memes, gang up on those who don’t share their opinion, and in all honesty lose the entire focus on the departed person to be remembered.

Yet, while the internet truly changes how we remember our late friends and family, there is one thing that these digital records cannot do: they cannot recreate the person who has departed this world.  They cannot help us see through the eyes of that person.  They cannot show us the exact struggles these people went through and feel the same feelings they did.  They cannot make us feel the love that these people had for their friends and family.  These things the Internet cannot bring us, and the only way we can experience these kinds of things is face-to-face with the people themselves.  After all, every profile that exists on the Internet started with a real person.

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We can never forget to take time away from the keyboards and the touch screens and experience real life with the people around us.  Talk to them, get to know them, share experiences, understand their feelings.  These are the things that can never be kept in a digital record.  Will you be remembered this way?

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Yet another summer full of disasters is underway.  From wildfires to impending hurricanes, there isn’t a single disaster that mother nature can’t throw our way during this hot, dry summer.  However, when it comes to finding updates on what is going in the moment, whether it be around the world or in my own community, I don’t do like I did 10 years ago and turn to my favorite news channel.  I don’t bother comparing the limited opinions (and yes, about 90% of the content is opinions) of networks like CNN, HLN, Fox News, or MSNBC.  Nor do I type in the URL to my local newspaper.  Instead, the place I go for finding out what is happening RIGHT NOW is the almighty Twitter.

A decade ago, the idea of completely crowdsourced journalism seemed like a radical idea that would prove to destroy the profession of journalism.  Just read Axel Bruns’ Gatewatching for a glimpse into the origins of these “crowdsources.” Now, however, the idea that Bruns envisioned of citizen and professional journalists working together to present the news seems to have become a reality via Twitter.  Take Breaking News for instance.  The news network is sourced primarily by a network of freelance journalists and ordinary people to bring the latest updates on big events as they happen.  In many cases, I’ve seen news updates through breaking news faster than I’ve ever seen them through any other major news source.  Or let’s say that I want to clear the clutter and look at only one event, like the West Fork Fire.  Just type in the hashtag #WestForkFire, and I get instant updates from multiple sources – something I would NEVER get by watching cable news.

Twitter seems to have become the internet’s interactive news ticker, delivering realtime updates from ordinary people.  The informative potential goes beyond newspapers, TV news, and event facebook.  What I find even more ironic is that all the while that this is happening, the few major news networks that are left are instead making a spectacle about the news.  Most “news” shows spend an entire 10 minute segment featuring a group of pretentious  commentators babbling about things that aren’t even news.  At the same time, people are tweeting updates to the world that can give first responders valuable intel to overcome a crisis.  Does anyone else find it ironic that the most trusted news source isn’t even a news network?

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!