Timeline: Citizen Journalism & Mobile Devices

By | November 14, 2008

September 11, 2001. According to the Pew Internet Project, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, generated the most traffic to traditional news sites in the history of the Web. The immense demand for immediate news had people turning  to e-mail, weblogs and forums “as conduits for information, commentary, and action related to 9/11 events.” The response on the Internet gave rise to a new proliferation of “do-it-yourself journalism” including eyewitness accounts, photo galleries, commentary and personal storytelling.

February 2, 2003. Following the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, news and government organizations, including NASA and the Dallas Morning News, called upon the public to submit eyewitness accounts and photographs that might lead to clues to the cause of the spacecraft’s disintegration.

February 18, 2003. In response to the massive worldwide demonstration organized to protest the start of the Iraq war, BBC News asked readers to send in images of the anti-war demonstrations around the world. The news organization asked specifically for images taken with digital cameras and cell phones with built-in cameras. It published the best photos on its Web site.

Sunday, December 26, 2004. A 9.1-magnitude underwater earthquake caused a huge tsunami in Banda Aceh Indonesia. More than 225,000 people in 11 countries died as a result. News footage taken by witnesses with mobile recording devices was widely disseminated, stirring a worldwide humanitarian effort.

May 27, 2005. ‘American Idol’ TV watchers sent 41 million text messages. Americans are getting more comfortable sending SMS.

July 7, 2005.  Terrorists blew up three underground trains and a double-decker bus in London, killing scores and injuring hundreds. The use of camera and video phones by passengers provided the only on-scene news photos of the events.

May 2006. ‘American Idol’ sets another SMS record, generating 64.5 million SMS messages on Cingular and breaking the previous record of 41.5 million messages.

March 9-18, 2007. Twitter gets attention from news organizations during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The service was named the best blogging tool by attendees to share news and opinion, and to arrange meet ups at parties. 

April 16, 2007. The Virginia Tech massacre. The perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 people and wounded many others before committing suicide. A student named Jamal Albarghouti shot video on his cell phone camera of the shootings in progress and sent them to CNN’s iReport citizen journalism website. The video clips were then broadcast widely by CNN and other media.

August 1, 2007. Minneapolis Bridge Collapse. Citizen journalists using mobile devices captured some of the first images of the devastation and posted them to CNN’s iReport website, which were then broadcast widely. These citizen journalist witnesses also helped to describe the disaster to CNN anchors on air.

September 2007. Citizen protests in Burma were largely reported to the world through photos and video captured on mobile phones. Images of monks marching peacefully in protest and being attacked in Burma reached a global online public in a matter of hours, rather than days, quickly moving the world to action.

October 2007. California wildfires. News outlets solicited, and subsequently used, submissions from people capturing news with cell phone cameras and posting them on blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc.. Multimedia platform Veeker, which signed a deal with NBC to handle viewer uploads in 10 major cities, said that NBC San Diego recieved over 2000 submissions of pictures and video related to the wildfires.

October 2007. Nokia and Reuters announced that they had partnered to create the ‘Mobile Journalism Toolkit,’ which teams a Nokia N95 cell phone with a keyboard, small tripod, and solar charger — technologies often used by amateurs to capture local news. The toolkit was deployed to select Reuters journalists to help them file stories from the field and use the cell phone’s camera to take photos and videos of news events. “By running on handheld devices, rather than on bulkier laptop computers, the mobile journalism application enables us to create complete stories and file them for distribution, without leaving the scene,” said Nic Fulton, Chief Scientist at Reuters.

May 2008. AT&T announced the company has shattered its text messaging record of 64.5 million by generating more than 78 million messages for the latest season of ‘American Idol’ — the most popular show on television. Some argue that the “American Idol” voting has significantly helped the adoption of SMS among the masses in the United States.

September 2008 – The Associated Press broke a story videos taken by mobile phones about Afghan children killed by US military forces. Similar stories were reported from Kashmir where hundreds of people, touted by the BBC as “Kashmir’s mobile phone chroniclers’, used their mobile phones to document atrocities during recent demonstrations that were then posted on YouTube.

U.S. Presidential Election | 2008 – Thousands of individuals, as well as major news organizations, post 160-character news updates and opinion using the social networking service Twitter. Journalists and others use their mobile devices and Twitter to “microblog.”

Where we are now:  The idea behind citizen journalism or “participatory journalism” is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution capabilities of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others.  Mobile phones are transforming the process of reporting, putting power in the hands of the public. Individuals with mobile devices are able to capture ‘news’ in real or close-to-real time, often faster than professional journalists. Knowing this, it has become commonplace for mainstream news organizations to soliticit audience participation, specifically photos or video footage captured from personal mobile cameras. 



Anti-war protest photo gallery. BBC News: February 18,  2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/2763101.stm

AT&T Announces FOX’s ‘American Idol’ Seventh Season Breaks All-Time Record for Text Messaging. May 22, 2008. http://www.fiercewireless.com/press-releases/t-announces-foxs-american-idol-seventh-season-breaks-all-time-record-text-messaging?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&cmp-id=EMC-NL-upda&dest=FW

Bowman, S. and Willis, C. “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information.” 2003, The Media Center at the American Press Institute.

Catone, Josh. Online Citizen Journalism Now Undeniably Mainstream. Oct. 26, 2007. Read Write Web. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/online_citizen_journalism_mainstream.php

Douglas, Torin. Shaping the media with mobiles. BBC News: August 4, 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4745767.stm

Hamilton, Anita. “Why Everyone’s Talking about Twitter.” Time – Business & Tech: March 27, 2007. http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1603637,00.html

Outing, Steve. “Stop the Presses: Photo Phones Portend Visual Revolution. Editor&Publisher.com: March 12, 2003.

Rainie, Lee. One Year Later: September 11 and the Internet. Pew Intenret & American Life Project: September 5, 2002.  http://www.pewinternet.org/report_display.asp?r=69

Schwartz, John. “With Aid of Amateurs, NASA Builds Mosaic of a Disaster.” The New York Times: April 22, 2003. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9802E7DF103AF931A15757C0A9659C8B63

Tragedy Over Texas. The Dallas Morning News: Feb. 2, 2003. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spe/2008/columbia/

Verclas, Katrin. A Mobile Voice: The Use of Mobile Phones in Citizen Media. MobileActive.org: November 2008. http://mobileactive.org/mobile-voice-use-mobile-phones-citizen-media

Videos Show Afghan Children Casualties. Associated Press: September 8, 2008. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/09/07/terror/main4423942.shtml

Wagner, Mitch. “CNN Creates Citizen Journalism Channels On Web, In Second Life.” The Information Week Blog: March 24, 2008.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: