The arrival of a digital video camera in everyone’s pocket has completely reshaped the availability of footage for breaking news events. No longer must we wait for a news crew to arrive before we can get footage of what’s happening. Now, if there is anything close to a newsworthy event occurring it will probably be filmed by a handful of witnesses.
This shifting media landscape has allowed for the documentation of some shocking events that may have otherwise passed with little or no verification.
When at least 27 people were killed at a peaceful protest during Egypt’s 2011 revolution, much of the footage that revealed the tragedy was shot by citizens and not the state-run media sources. The momentum of the revolution was due in no small part to the availability of footage posted online that contradicted the government’s official statements of non-violence.
The same phenomenon happened in London in 2009 with the death of Ian Tomlinson during a civil protest. Tomlinson’s death was officially ruled as a heart attack from natural causes until civilian footage showed that he had been attacked without warning by a police officer.
More recently we have footage shot from the war-torn streets of what is now being considered by the CPJ and RSF as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, Syria. Civilian pages such as The Revolting Syrian (warning: graphic) give us an inside look at what is happening in a country where media footage is very strictly regulated.
This newfound access to sensitive events allows for an unprecedented look at multiple angles to a story. At no other point in history have we ever had such an abundance of potential footage. The rise of civilian journalism in changing how the public receives information, and is making it possible for us to get a view behind the curtain in places cameras have not been able to show us before.