Gawk-20: Citizen Journalists, moths to a flame…
Are you rolling your eyes at me behind this computer screen for writing about something “stale”?
Yes, I know this “G20” stuff is totally old news. I mean, it’s been a full two weeks now since the last dignitary-filled motorcade left the city. Downtown Toronto is finally free from those unsightly security fences and the only people wearing fume masks these days are acrylic-huffing nail artists at your local mani-pedi joint.
So, why the heck am I writing about “Gee-Twentityness” (my own etymological device, thank you very much) when there are more pressing issues at hand? Like LeBron James and his controversial move in the NBA draft? Or whatever the heck is going on in the World Cup? Or for the love of all things newsy, the fact that LINDSAY LOHAN is going to PRISON!
Personal observations (and many a juicy American news lineup) have shown me that the public’s attention tends to shift towards where the action is. It’s only human nature. Like the magpie, who is inexplicably attracted to sparkly things, contemporary publics tend to gravitate naturally towards the flashier side of life -- towards scandals, spectacles and drama.
Am I coming across as cynical?
I don’t actually view the average news consumer as a vapid, starry-eyed drone, I’m just being melodramatic and snarky towards said “average news consumers” because, well… I feel a little bit threatened right now.
Much like those feisty Canadian Geese who chase you across the golf course if you get too close to their nests, when I feel threatened I tend to lash out.
Which brings us back to the G20 summit and related melee.
Allow me to explain.
On Saturday, June 26th, I woke up feeling relaxed and happy, confident that getting downtown for my radio room shift would be a breeze.
Word around the city was that Toronto had turned into a ghost town thanks to all of this G20 hype. I was loving the peace and quiet.
Little did I know that “peace and quiet” would soon give way to “burn-smashity chaos”.
My roommate burst out of his room around 2 p.m. telling me to turn on the TV. As soon as I caught a glimpse of those big crazy crowds I rounded up my gear and jumped into action mode.
Hustling my way over to the Queen and Spadina, I couldn’t help but imagine myself scoring some outstanding protest footage. What a treat, my first summer as a working journalist in the big city and all hell breaks loose! I was psyched thinking that just maybe, if I got there early enough and played my cards right, I’d be able to blend right in with the crowd and get some wild exclusive videos.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this thought.
I could go on for hours about the throngs of digi-cam wielding soccer dads and iPhone photographer hipsters flooding the city’s core, but I’ll let my video footage speak for itself.
Notice, if you will, that the number of gawkers (myself being one of them) outnumber the actual protesters and rabble-rousing “anarchists” by at least 8 to 1, on average.
What disturbs me most about all of the G20 riot footage on Youtube isn’t the black bloc window smashing or police cars being set on fire, but the sheer volume of people gathered around taking pictures of it all.
In J-school, there was many a rousing debate about citizen journalism and the implications of this kind of reporting on the future of our profession.
The way I see it, we’re living in a post-Web 2.0 world that’s filled with increasingly user friendly and inexpensive media production technologies. In 2010, anybody can purchase a top-of-the-line camera, start up a blog and get their message out.
Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that while, yes, anybody can go through the motions of reporting, not everybody can be a reporter.
Your chiropractor’s secretary can tweet photos from the scene of a crime with her Blackberry along with hundreds of other bystanders. She can even take some fabulous high-quality photos with her brand new Canon Digital Rebel T1i. But she doesn’t have the years of experience, training and raw talent that someone who does this for a living does. Point in case.
Likewise, anybody can express their opinions in a letter to the editor, on a blog, a tweet or a good ol’ fashioned handmade zine. It may be well articulated, but it’s still rare to find a citizen-journo with as much impact behind their words as a an experienced veteran journalist.
No amount of fancy equipment or technical prowess can replace a well trained reporter who understands the importance of truth, fairness, accuracy, balance and all of those other things they teach us to value both in j-school and in the newsroom.
So, thank you to everybody who called in news tips and emailed us photos during the ever-so-busy G20 weekend. Your support and input was much appreciated, but please don't be upset if your iPhone photo of a burning police car didn't make it onto the front page of the paper.
There are already so many talented professionals working in the industry - people who continue to dig for the full story, long after the flaming cop cars have been extinguished.
The aftermath stories may not be as glamorous as those about rioters looting coffee shops in the financial district, but they're still important stories about things that impact the lives of every Torontonian.
I guess that’s what differentiates a journalist from a citizen journalist - the ability to see beyond the flash and dazzle, into the heart of a story. The willingness to report not only on what's exciting, but what's important.
Lauren O’Neil is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts - Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario. She is rarely, if ever, spotted without a pink Blackberry in her hand and is fluent in both HTML and English. Please follow her on Twitter so that she can continue to build up her mad social media cred @laurenonizzle.