Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Cell-Phone Cameras Document History


Although the official film of the execution of Saddam Hussein stopped short of his actual death, viewers around the world were privy to his final seconds thanks to an enterprising Iraqi citizen with a cell-phone camera.

Baby boomers may remember Dick Tracy's wristwatch/camera/phone, but few of us really expected to see them on a daily basis in schools, convenience stores, ball games and everywhere else people gather.

Video produced via cell phone has found a perfect outlet on the Internet, allowing average citizens to take a hand in documenting our lives, from the mundane to the (potentially) historically significant.

Reuters and Yahoo are seeking to capitalize on man-on-the-street videos with a new web site, YouWitnessNews.com. "Were you there when news happened?" the site asks. "Upload your photos and video here to have them considered for use in articles and features on Yahoo! News."

Mainstream news services, such as the BBC, CNN and local affiliates, also solicit and air video from viewers. Online collections of news and current events are proliferating on blogs. Web sites such as YouTube offer opportunities for anyone to post anything, from baby's first steps to executions of former despots.

As people across the country take the news into their own hands, the movement has earned a name: "citizen photojournalism." Industry analysts expect that the trend will only strengthen as the capabilities of cell-phone cameras improve.

Amateur photojournalism is beneficial to the news-gathering industry for two reasons. Although media syndicates cannot deploy personnel to be everywhere, all the time, the chances of a newsworthy event's happening in the vicinity of a citizen armed with a cell-phone camera are increasing daily. Also, the majority of these citizens do not seek recompense for their contributions, feeling that the glory of having their videos and photos on the nightly news, or reaching millions on the Internet, is reward enough.

The latter fact has raised questions about the job security of professional reporters and photojournalists. Some have even linked the rise in citizen photojournalism to recent downsizings and layoffs at media corporations, including giants such as Time Inc., the New York Times Co. and Hearst.

Monique Villa, executive vice president and managing director of Reuters Media, says that although efforts by members of the public can complement the task of gathering the world's news on a daily basis, the industry will always have a need for highly trained, professional photographers.