Camphone footage makes mainstream media

Posted on July 10, 2005 
Filed Under Uncategorized

Cameraphone video footage and pics came to the fore after London’s tragic bombings.

mtippett posted a screencap of the Most Viewed Image on Yahoo News was that of a smoky, carriage in a London tube. Although it was grainy and greenish, the image indicates the speed of citizen news reporting to come when everyone has a cameraphone.

In a Newsday.com article, “Cellphone videos stage center in news”, Matea Gold points out that “…the new technology provides nearly instant amateur images for broadcast that the television news crews were not able to get.”

It was, possibly, the first widespread use of that technology in covering a major breaking news story of global significance.

Of the 192 million cellphones in the U.S., about 18%, or roughly 34.5 million, now have cameras. The percentage of camera phones is even higher in Europe, where the technology has been around longer.

Loaded with features including text messaging, video games, cameras, live TV and the ability to record and transmit video through the Internet, the phones have become must-have items, especially among teens. They’ve been banned as voyeuristic irritants — or worse — at venues ranging from schools to Hollywood movie screenings. But, as they proved in London on Thursday, they can also provide a ground-level view of history.

“You forget how many people have these phones now and how much more of the first minutes of an event you’re going to see,” said Chuck Lustig, director of foreign news coverage for ABC.

British television network ITN received dozens of video clips, some by e-mail and others from survivors of the blasts who brought their phones directly to the London newsroom. Some of the video clips were too gruesome too air, according to one senior editor.

Sky News aired a haunting 20-second clip filmed by a commuter on a train between the King’s Cross and Russell Square stations, who e-mailed it to the British television network, Fox News’ sister channel. It showed lines of people filing through dark tunnels under greenish lights and an alarmed man staring at the camera, part of his face obscured by a cloth over his mouth. BBC aired video from cellphones throughout the day, as well.

The British channels distributed the footage to other networks, including those in the United States. The amateur video clips quickly became a staple of the news coverage.

The video did not provide the usual crisp images sought by news producers. Shakily filmed, the footage showed frightened Londoners cast in an eerie green light, holding handkerchiefs over their mouths to block the smoke as they struggled to get out of the subway.

“It looked to me like a goldfish aquarium,” said John Moody, Fox News’ senior vice president for news editorial. “Right now, the pictures themselves are not sharp enough to be used on a daily basis. But when you’ve only got one picture of something, you can make vast allowances for the quality.”

In fact, the footage might not have garnered much attention if there had been extensive professional video of the explosions’ aftermath. But on a day devoted to nonstop coverage of the bombings, news executives said the mobile phone video was able to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere underground.

“It was a little bit murky and blurry, but the viewer could get a sense that something bad had happened,” said Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for news coverage at CBS.

“It’s a harbinger of what’s to come in terms of citizen journalism,” said Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S. “These days, you just have to be in the wrong place at the right time, and you too can cover the news…..Neil Strother, a Seattle-based analyst who tracks the use of mobile devices for the research firm In-Stat, said the number of U.S. cellphones with camera or video capability was expected to grow significantly in the next year as developing technology allowed for higher-quality images and wireless carriers expanded their broadband networks.

“With more and more people carrying cellphones with that kind of function, you’re probably going to see a lot more of that amateur news video,” Strother said. “It potentially makes everybody a pod-casting journalist.”

MORE | iFilm video

I remember reading an Online Journalism Review article about the aftermath of a 12-vehicle pile-up that happened on June 23, 2003 in Japan and was captured by a trucker. The video of the accident that occurred on the Tomei Expressway in Aichi Prefecture, in which four people died, was later shown on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting station.

Welcome to 21st century journalism!

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