Next Step in Participatory Journalism?

The California wild fires have been the lead story for most US news organizations over the past few days. The losses in lives and dollars are high.

For television it’s a compelling story because it’s got great video.

That’s awful, but it’s true. The pictures of flames towering into the sky, soot covered firefighters and distraught homeowners play into what television shows best… emotion.

Last night, for the second night in a row, Peter Jennings anchored World News Tonight from the scene of one of the fires. I can only imagine the ‘rolling stock’ TV stations and networks have brought to the fire lines.

That having been established, this disaster might mark the emergence of the next wave in journalism – the ordinary citizen as chronicler. A Southern California Wild Fires site has gone up with some amazing (and some pedestrian) photos of the action.

It is now easy for nearly anyone to get a reasonably high quality photo onto the Internet. Not only do we have digital cameras, but some of the cameras are built into the very cell phones that will transmit the pictures to their destination. And, it is reasonably easy to establish a website to serve the photos. Moblog sites, for showing mobile digital pictures, are also readily available.

Most of the photos on Southern California Wild Fires are nothing special. But, like the infinite number of monkeys typing on the infinite number of typewriters for the infinite amount of time – at some point they will produce Shakespeare. The number of excellent photos is more a reflection of the immense number of shots taken as opposed to the skill of the shooters.

I suspect over the next few years we will see more, not less of this. It will change how news is gathered and dispensed. I am worried that, like Gresham’s Law in economics, cheap photography will begin to drive expensive professional photography out of existence.

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