DIGC202- The Dark Side of Citizen Journalism

In a society where we have instant internet access and high-quality cameras on phones, the journalism industry was always going to struggle. Now, we live in an age where the line between everyday journalism and professional journalism has become increasingly blurred. Citizen journalism, for all the good it does do, does have a very dark side.

For those of you who haven’t seen the excellent 2014 thriller “Nightcrawler”, there is a very real industry of people who literally ‘chase crimes’ and film said crime scenes, which they then sell to local television networks. Now, these crime-chasers often push moral boundaries, like arriving to a crime scene before police and taking shots rather than helping victims. It’s a very dark area of journalism and worryingly anyone with a camera can participate and in this age that would be almost anyone. Everyday, we see videos of public racism, abuse and violence. The question we always ask when seeing these videos is: why are you filming when you can be helping?



Public Photography and Ethics

Ethics in photography is an issue which is particularly relevant in society today, as videos of racist and violent behavior from around the world continues to be uploaded to sites such as YouTube and Facebook every day. Every time we watch these videos, however, we must ourselves: Is this ethical? And if not, why is the person filming not helping with the situation? In order to further explore this issue, I want to review the way the 2014 film “Nightcrawler” directed by Tony Gilroy explores the ethics in video journalism.

The film “Nightcrawler” revolves around the character Louis Bloom (brilliantly portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) who begins a video company in L.A. that specializes in recording crime scenes and selling the footage to various news outlets. As begins to excel at it, he begins to cross the line between what is ethical and what isn’t. This is just a vague plot summary and I highly recommend that you watch the film, not only because it is a great film but also because of the issues it touches upon. The film acts as a commentary on the grey area of photojournalism but also acts as an allegory for the way we photograph or film dangerous and harmful situations which we then upload to Facebook or Youtube. A particular scene in the film that reflects this idea, shows Louis actually contaminating a crime scene, in order to increase the worth of his footage. This reflects the society we live in, where we ignore our sense of morals for personal gain.

The tendency to film public confrontations or humiliations also, according to Lasen (2009, pg 205) “challenge the traditional concepts of the public and the private”.  A recent video uploaded on Facebook showed a brawl on a Sydney train between three teenage girls after a game of Rugby League. Although the video does show a man attempting to break up the fight, the fact that an individual’s first thought was to simply film the brawl, indicates that ethics in photography is an issue that is yet to be properly addressed.

So next time you see a stranger embarrassing himself, being offensive or violent in public, please don’t just get your camera out. Do something positive to diffuse the situation.




Aubusson, K 2015, ‘Violent brawl between teenage girls on a Sydney train caught on video’, Sydney Morning Herald website, viewed 6th September 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/violent-brawl-between-teenage-girls-on-a-sydney-train-caught-on-video-20150828-gjaeqj.html
Lasén, A, & Gómez-Cruz, E 2009, ‘Digital Photography and Picture Sharing: Redefining the Public/Private Divide’, Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 22, 3, pp. 205-215, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 September 2015.

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