Poor journos. The uncertainty the profession faces is not merely due to the changing landscape of media ownership or consumption – consider this. If you really take notice, just how many newsworthy stories now involve content beyond the hard work of journalists, such as footage captured by surveillance cameras and from those not in the industry? Attacks on public transport, car chases, mistreatment of humans, brazen robberies – it all sounds very familiar and newsworthy doesn’t it? Surveillance videos are an example of visual news narratives that are easily accessed and increasingly used by news outlets (Gynnild 2014, p. 450).
Smile! That news footage can come from anywhere, even a service station.
Service Station Surveillance by Joe Bovalino, 29 July 2016
Perhaps the operators of CCTVs and the general public should be on the payroll of major network news corporations. New terms have been created to define such practices. ‘Sousveillance’ describes a style of watchdog work and reporting by citizens made possible by the changing nature of portable devices such as smartphones (Bock 2016, p. 15). Everyone is a news maker – eyewitness news is no longer just a spectator explaining what they saw. ‘Here’s my phone or security footage, take a look at what happened.’
So where does this leave today’s journalist? Instead of aspiring to work in an industry which takes pride in searching for truth and assisting in justice, perhaps we should all just buy shares in surveillance and tech companies. It appears they are slowly becoming the ‘go-to’ source for a steady stream of confronting news content that creates heated public reaction and daily hot talk-back topics.
Consider also the very nature of surveillance and how the protection of journalist’s sources is threatened by the same thing that is fast becoming the catalyst for many major stories. Will the source that the reporter has spent so much time developing a relationship with be prepared to offer that critical piece of information or will they be spooked by the very thing that news providers appear to be accessing more frequently for their daily content?
In his article, Pearson (2015) notes that location technology on devices carried by either person could potentially link the journalist with their source. Imagine that you’re sitting on a story that could create massive headlines and you have a source that has explosive evidence. This is the stuff compelling journalism is made of. Then, the source goes cold. He or she suspects their mobile number has been hacked and that their location is known. Perhaps any rendezvous will also be caught on security cameras that will confirm their association with you. That Walkley award goes begging. Damn you surveillance!
However, professional journalism and providers of news still have an important role to play when considering the influence and power of observation. Barnes (2012, p. 19) notes that concepts such as off-the-record material, attribution, balance, fairness and objectivity will not always be understood by the inexperienced. This is where the journalist could assist. Understand the importance of modern surveillance technology in generating newsworthy content and recognise the role journalism plays in ensuring those untrained contributors are respected and protected. Don’t dismiss that award too early.
Barnes, C 2012, ‘Citizen journalism vs. traditional journalism: a case for collaboration’, Caribbean Quarterly, 2-3, p. 16, EBSCOhost, viewed 27 July 2016.
Bock, MA 2016, ‘Film the Police! Cop-Watching and Its Embodied Narratives’, Journal Of Communication, 66, 1, pp. 13-34, EBSCOhost, viewed 27 July 2016.
Gynnild, A 2014, ‘Surveillance Videos and Visual Transparency in Journalism’, Journalism Studies, 15, 4, pp. 449-463, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 27 July 2016.
Pearson, M 2015, ‘How surveillance is wrecking journalist-source confidentiality’, June 22, The Conversation, viewed 28 July 2016, http://theconversation.com/how-surveillance-is-wrecking-journalist-source-confidentiality-43228