Monday, July 11, 2005

Citizen Journalist Coming of Age

Coverage of last week's London bombings demonstrated yet again how the landscape for photo journalism is shifting. While no one disputes the power and importance of professional photojournalism, the most memorable--and timely-images from last week's attack were captured not by well known news agencies but by average citizens armed with above average imaging technology namely camera phones. The lead image on Friday's New York Times (as shown, image left credit: Alexander Chadwick/AP) featured subway train survivors navigating from the blast site through the darkness of a London Underground tunnel. Within hours of the blasts cameraphone users blogged over 300 images to Flickr that bore witness to the latest terror atrocity.

Beyond the near-real time access these images provided the news media, the significance of this event points to the ever increasing awareness that common citizens have to the power of wireless distribution of images and the multiplier impact of the web to reach worldwide audiences. This behaviour would suggest that as citizens are increasingly empowered with enabling technology they will use that technology to accelerate-- and monetize-- distribution of their personal images. The implications for professional photographers and agencies--especially photo-j's and celebrity-- are disruptive to the conventional way of doing business and will need to be addressed.

During the last 12 months some of the most memorable--and impactful-- images of world events (Abu Garib prison, the Asian Tsunami, London bombings) were captured by citizen journalists. Industry colleagues (and venture capitalists) who are asking whether or not average user (i.e. non professional) images can be turned into commercial content licensing businesses need look no further than the early success of Flickr (news and event), iStockphoto (commercial stock) and Digital Railroad (editorial and commercial stock) to see how these innovators are taking advantage of this emerging trend.

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