No Law

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The advent of small digital cameras and laptops, in conjunction with the arrival of video on the web has opened the door to ‘television making’ to millions who previously were denied access.

This is a process that has just started and will now continue. We are only at the beginning.

But even at this early stage, it raises uncomfortable questions for some, as the world shifts.

A recent discussion on b-roll.net entitled “Why Citizen Journalists Can Be A Bad Idea”, raises this issue, (with a reference to an article in the Press Gazette).

We have come from an era in which television, and access to the ‘making’ of television news was in the hands of a very few. It was a very very controlled environment, and those very few who had control over television news espoused that they were doing this ‘in the public interest’, and were completely commited to ‘balanced’ reporting. They even had a variety of ‘Codes of Ethics’ in writing to prove the point.

I know. I was given a copy when I went to work for CBS News.

Very admirable.

Also, very contrary to the basis of a free press.

The technology of television, until very recently, simply made the instrument far too expensive and complex for the average person to get their hands on.

Now all this has changed.

What does it mean?

Organizations such as The Poynter Institution or Gannett’s Freedom Forum periodically conduct national surveys on support for the First Amendment. The numbers tend to swing with national events. In 2002, in the wake of 9/11, they were at their worst, with 49% of respondents saying that they felt that the First Amendment went ‘too far’ in granting freedom to the press. Among the key findings:

For the first time in our polling, almost half of those surveyed said that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. About 49% said the First Amendment gives us too much freedom, up from 39% last year and 22% in 2000.

  • The least popular First Amendment right is freedom of the press. Forty-two percent of respondents said the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, roughly the same level as last year.
  • More than 40% said newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance.
  • Roughly half of those surveyed said the American press has been too aggressive in asking government officials for information about the war on terrorism.
  • More than four in 10 said they would limit the academic freedom of professors and bar criticism of military policy.

Even now, 5 years later, the numbers have improved, but not by as much as one might like. One in three Americans would still limit free press rights.

The term “Citizen Journalist” is inherently incorrect.

In this country, every ‘citizen’ has the right to be a ‘journalist’ – that is, every citizen has the right to publish.

‘Journalism’ is not a ‘profession’, at least not in the sense of surgeon or engineer. It is not a small, elite class given the license to engage in public discourse for the benefit of the rest of us. Journalism is, instead, a right, a freedom and a responsibility. Those of us who elect to do this for ‘a living’ are merely on the cutting edge of a far larger group (the ‘we the people’), and hence exist to protect the greater rights of all every day.

The advent of small cameras, video cell phones and sites like Youtube or ctzn.tv open the door of television to “We The People”. That is how it should be. That is how it should have been from the beginning had cost and technology not allowed it then.

That is how it is going to be now.

This is not a ‘danger’ to society.

On the contrary, the limited and closed environment of conventional television news was the danger.

We like a free press.

Free presses are messy.

They are supposed to be.

And they are protected in the Constitution for a reason.

21 responses to “No Law

  1. Same battle, different battlefield.

    Michael, I think we can safely state that out POV on this industry are very opposite. You are mainly pro management. Most of your good connections are owners of television stations and we’ve been hearing about all the successes that they are enjoying, at the expense of cheap labor and low quality. I’m on the opposite side; I’m pro labor and pro quality, and also pro consumer. I believe that the only way to make a good living is not by demanding good pay but by providing the best quality possible, once you achieve that the money will follow. I’m also pro-consumer, viewers in our case, and you are not.

    Viewers for me are the most important element in our business, they deserve quality but also they deserve the truth.

    We are not talking about journalists but about the institution of journalism. Over the years the public have trusted that the news delivered to them by established organizations represented the truth and they know that if this is violated there are organizations out there that will come out of the woodwork to show that that particular report was wrong and the culprit will pay dearly, mostly with his career. This unwritten system is what gives the public a sense of trust. Big scandals like the NY Times and Dan Rather reaffirm this trust with the public that no one in news is above the truth.

    You are saying is that the public was denied access to the media, that’s untrue. Every one had the right and opportunity to become a journalist; the difference is that news outlets required that journalist be educated and adheres to a strict code of ethic and conduct. It wasn’t to benefit the news outlet but to protect the public trust from inaccurate news. It would have been much more profitable for established organization to get cheap news from anyone, as some of your friends are doing now, they could have made much more money but thankfully the truth in reporting and the trust in the public was more important that the bottom line.

    You keep telling people that established news outlets are some kind of monster that crash the First Amendment rights. Have you any proof of this? Maybe you haven’t noticed but the new media is the one who for ever has been fighting for the right of free speech in the press.

    Unquestionably is in your best financial interest that everybody become a journalist and you’ve been using the First Amendment to make your point. But once again what guarantee do you give the consumer that such news will be the truth and be accurate? Once you lose that trust journalism as we know it the entire journalistic institution and trust will die, and all for profit.

    In the last five year or since you’ve been promoting your VJ and CJs can you show a single video piece that was actually beneficial to the public?

  2. Michael, let me ask you a follow up question. KKK, Neo-Nazi, White Supremacists, Porno Industry. These are all organizations that are allowed to exist under the protection of the First Amendment, the same protection granted to the press. Would you allow them to post on your CitizenTV even thou their views are clearly Anti-Semitic and anti anyone that doesn’t share their POV. Should also the established news organizations give equal access to these groups?

  3. Dear Nino,
    This very issue was raised in a seminal Supreme Court case about the First Amendment in 1978.

    The Nazi Party wanted to march through the suburb of Skokie, Illinois. Skokie has a populaiton in which 1 in 6 people is Jewish, and a great number of them were holocause survivors.

    The question of whether the Nazis could march ultimately went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Nazis had a right to march – because of the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

    Here is a book I am strongly commending to you:

    When The Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom For Speech We Hate.

    It is by Philippa Strum, and published by the University of Kansas Press.

    Here is a quote from a review:

    “Forcefully argued, Strum’s book shows that freedom of speech must be defended even when the beneficiaries of that defense are far from admirable individuals. It raises both constitutional and moral issues critical to our understanding of free speech and carries important lessons for current controversies over hate speech on college campuses, inviting readers to think more carefully about what the First Amendment really means.”

    The First Amendment and other Constitutional guarantors of freedom are not there just to protect the things we all agree with, it really becomes important when we are asked to defend the things we disagree with.

    That is the power and the majesty of the First Amendment.

    Now, to your question would I run such a piece on ctzn.tv.

    The answer is, I am not sure.

    The First Amendment does not require me to publish – it frees anyone to publish. But in being a publisher, I also feel I carry some responsibility to support First Amendment rights in so far as I can.

    Thus I cannot, without seeing the piece, say whether I would publish or not. It is always on a very much case by case basis.

    In the meantime, read the book. I think you will find it very interesting.

    In any case, here is a link to an article on Skokie that can get you started:

    http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/strwhe.html

  4. Michael, in 1978 I spent one month in Illinois as a still photographer working with two UPI and ANSA European reporters on that story. I drove there from the NE with a station wagon full of equipment and set-up a darkroom to process B&W film and prints in the bathroom of our hotel. One of the reporters drove to a newspaper in Chicago everyday to feed the prints to Europe.

  5. Having been there yourself, you will no doubt find the book even more interesting.

    And see how the technology has changed so fast.

  6. Are you telling me that I should see how the technology has changed so fast?

  7. In 1978, the same year you were processing film in a bathroom in Illinois, I was processing film in a tent in Kiryat Sh’mona, in Israel. Today, the idea of mixing fixer or developer in a sink, of loading film in a bag is as old as an icebox. In our lifetimes, technology has changed enormously.

  8. So…
    CTZN.TV will be a “controlled” media outlet? 😉

  9. Michael, you are confusing the heck out of me with your writing.

    First you said that the press should be open to citizens to post whatever they want to post because you feel that the current news reporting system it’s too much restricted by the established news outlets and they are denying the people’s rights under the First Amendment.

    Then you said that somebody should monitor these citizens and what they write, basically you are saying that the First Amendment should be the interpretation of an individual other than the original citizen journalist. This means that someone trained to follow a journalistic code of ethic and conduct should oversee the work of someone (CJ) who is not trained as journalist. For all practical purposes and for whatever motive this is censorship, unless the individual making the interpretation is the Supreme Court.

    Then you give us this link to a survey that what is really saying is that the US population believe that there’s too much press and the press should be controlled or censored ever more and that there’s too much freedom under the First Amendments. Of course this whole survey directly contradicts with your call for more open press or citizen journalism.

    http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=16915
    • For the first time in our polling, almost half of those surveyed said that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. About 49% said the First Amendment gives us too much freedom, up from 39% last year and 22% in 2000.
    • The least popular First Amendment right is freedom of the press. Forty-two percent of respondents said the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, roughly the same level as last year.
    • More than 40% said newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance.
    • Roughly half of those surveyed said the American press has been too aggressive in asking government officials for information about the war on terrorism.
    • More than four in 10 said they would limit the academic freedom of professors and bar criticism of military policy.
    • About half of those surveyed said government should be able to monitor religious groups in the interest of national security, even if that means infringing upon religious freedom.
    • More than four in 10 said the government should have greater power to monitor the activities of Muslims living in the United States than it does other religious groups.

    So what is it?

  10. Dear Nino,

    First, I really urge you to get both the Skokie book and “The Constitution, That Delicate Balance” by Fred Friendly. I think you will find both of these make for very interesting reading.

    Now, to answer your questions:

    1. I do think the current media outlets are far too restrictive, particularly in the case of television. This is a function of the technology more than anything else, and the ingrained habits of 50 years. I don’t think the conventional media are per se denying citizens their first amendment rights. The barrier to access is falling all the time courtesy of the web.

    2. I never said anyone should “monitor these citizens”. If that is what you interpret my writings, let me correct that here and now. The freedom to write or video whatever you want is untrammeled. The responsibility for the decision of what to publish lies with each publisher themselves. The First Amendment does not carry a requirement to publish everything that is submitted. It does however give the ‘submitter’ the right to write whatever they want. Do you see the difference?

    3.The reason I published the survey from Gannett is to underscore the importance of journalists defending the first amendment even in light of popular pressure to weaken it from time to time. That, as I wrote on b-roll, is our code of ethics. The US is a nation of laws, not of men, (as Archibald Cox said), and in that understanding is vested our collective freedom – even if the vast majority don’t agree. It does not matter. Even if 95% of the population felt that something should be restricted from ‘free speech’, the right of that one person to say or write what they wanted is still protected.

    It is this that is the fundamental difference between the US and most other countries in the world (including the UK, I would add, which does not have a written constitution or a first amendment). What makes this country so amazing and so unique is that the rights of everyone, regardless of their opinion, is protected by the fundamental law of the land. In writing.

    The very first amendment, the first law of the land, is the freedom of the press. That anyone has the right to say pretty much anything without fear, regardless of how noxious it may seem to others. Political sentiment to pornography, it is protected.

    As journalists, our very first responsibility is to defend that right – of everyone’s… not just our small club of paid professionals.

  11. I don’t see the controversial aspect of this post — I don’t see why anyone would find it troublesome.

    Just consider prior media formats and what’s happened there. Can Neonazis print and distribute hate-filled pamplets and books? Yep. So why not video? What’s so special about video as a medium that should stop citizens from producing whatever they want? (And they already distribute video anyway.)

    If you’re concerned about libel/slander, well, we have laws for that. You can argue that they are or aren’t restrictive enough or punitive enough, but that’s a tangential argument.

    Turning over video as a medium to the public is a fine addition to the self-publication First Amendment toolbox. Will people lie with it? You bet. Will people say/create/distribute objectionable material? Of course. Will that bring down the democracy? Only if the democracy was about to fall anyway (i.e. “no”).

    Let’s keep in mind this is not an either/or argument. There’s space for high production values and low production values. There’s space for advertising-laden paid “professional” product and free product. Especially on the web, there’s no (practical) limits to what we can produce, distribute or consume (though there are some technical limitations that will relax over time).

    I just don’t see the problem here.

  12. There isn’t a problem.

    But there is a change taking place, and there are people trying to figure out the new models, how they will be profitable, or not. And what role quality and ethics will play, if any. Also, what viewers will watch. There are a lot of interesting things taking place in the media/journalism professions. Trying to stay ahead of the game is definately worth debating. I enjoy the discussions, and challenges.

    Viewers will, I think, want a trustworthy news outlet. I think the established outlets have an advantage going into the future – (brand, staff, equipment). They simply need to build their fairness, accuracy, and quality product. They also need to have a video journalism director who will maximize the potential.

    Currently, the networks are not maximizing the potential of video journalism…either by a solo VJ, or by a crew. Currently networks “control” the product way too much, with reporters, standups, teases, graphics, repetitive talking heads, and unimaginative, un creative video.

    It is time for them to wake up and maximize video potential.

  13. “It is time for them to wake up and maximize video potential.”

    Eric, it’s very easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’ve been hearing about problems with television from Michael and his followers for years now. I’m a firm believer that if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. I haven’t seen any viable solution coming form anyone yet, just complains and dreams that it will happen, be assured that it will happen. Then I’ve been hearing over and over about compelling stories, intimate reports, personal involvements and more nice and catchy phrases. Yet years went by and I’m still waiting to see any of these.
    It’s evident that the VJ solution wasn’t a solution at all but a huge downgrade to whatever is currently available. So what’s next? More complains? Are sites like the citizen TV the solution of all these problems and the future of modern television? I certainly hope not. Have you seen the work displayed on any of the citizen TV left? Is this what “maximized video potential” will look like in the future?

  14. Nino,

    When I wrote …. “it is time to maximize video potential” ….. Trust me, I strongly believe that.

    But do not assume for one second that I meant citizen produced video, or even solo video journalism.

    Maximize video storytelling, no matter where it comes from, who produces it. That means all of the above should be considered, used, maximized to its potential. Currently, I strongly believe that most local tv news, and network news, do not utilize video well. There is rarely natural sound, natural moments, stories that take you there. Mostly, it is reporter, anchor, graphics, talking heads, sports highlights, weather maps, cliches, cliches, uncreative rehashing of past court cases, file video, teases, etc…

    I enjoy, and I think viewers do too….a QUALITY visual story that delves into the news…but also into the sounds, sights and people who are NOT paid to comb their hair and have their teeth cleaned. I am more in favor of video journalism than I am of satellite time. Let video journalists show me the news….not an opinionated good looking show and tell anchor.

    I favor high quality.

    But I do not agree with either side, that says their side is “always” better, and that the other approach will die. Neither the VJ only side, or the professional crew only side is right.

    Quality video journalism can be produced by anyone. There are four areas I look at: Content, Craft, Creativity and Committment.

    Content can be produced by anybody, a citizen, or a professional. Give me good content. I’ll be there. Craft is very important, and I think professional, experienced storytellers…are better storytellers….than unexperienced, amateurs. So pros win the craft category hands down. Creativity is up in the air. Currently, networks are totally un creative…either with their craft – or with content. And finally…committment. That is where citizens and the new breed can gain viewers. If Joe Blow is COMMITTED to telling a compelling story about such and such… then they will succeed. The local news, or network might not be committed…and therefore, will lose that battle.

    Right now, local and networks are not committed to finding and telling strong visual stories – done well – creatively.

    That is what I mean by maximizing the potential.

    If you have a team, with a hall of fame quarterback, and great receivers, but a weak defense, you stand no chance of being the best.

    If you have a restaurant with a great BRAND, but serve crappy food, you will not gain more customers.

    All businesses need to maximize.

    I hope that makes better sense. I was not advocating citizen journalism. I favor professional journalism. However, citizen journalism is not going away.

    Today, I read about a “free market news” website….that broke the biggest local story in our city today. Note: “FREE MARKET NEWS WEBSITE.” Its here to stay. Deal with it. All of us should be advocating quality video storytelling.

  15. The first thing that we can agree is that we are on the wrong turf for this conversation. You are talking quality and this isn’t the place for that.

    “Content can be produced by anybody, a citizen, or a professional.”
    You are absolutely right on this one; everybody can also be a brain surgeon but not everybody is one. It takes training and education to be one, being a surgeon a plumber or a photographer it takes training, or you’ll end up with bad photography, leaking plumbing and leaking brains.

    Michael has basically been oversimplifying the importance of learning skills, he call them unnecessary, and he his right too, you only need skills to produce good quality work, without it, well, you’ll get what we’ve been seeing, real bad work.

    Michael tried to replace skill photographers with unskilled ones (VJ) because changes are needed. The average photographer today employed by established organization is only using a fraction of his talent; the problem is not with the photographers the problem is with management, that’s where the changes must take place. Everything starts with leadership.

    Michael is talking about the miracle new small automatic cameras, I use those and the automation is good only half of the time. If you are looking for quality then that’s why they also made them manual.

    Want good nat sound? You ain’t gonna get it with the on camera mike. I have 30k invested in sound equipment and at least a dozen of mikes, all for different sound situations. But of course I can’t use those while shooting; now I need a good sound tech if I really want good sound. Photographic conditions are not always perfect, actually most of the time they are not ideal for good photography, I could just roll and my picture would look like the 5takes shows, but if I want to get good quality I have many options, filters, lenses and camera setting are just some, but everything must first start with what’s inside my brains. Oversimplifying the need of training and the acquisition of skills is the number one problem with VJ and CJ and whatever other J.

    I told this to Michael longtime ago and also told him what would happen to anyone who is trying to make it a go in this business without the necessary skills, and that’s exactly what happened.

  16. I’m having trouble understanding the line drawn between citizen and professional journalism.

    I have no doubt most of the participants in the programs mentioned above have ambitions to be “professional” journalists. What determines this “professional” title? Means of production? Who signs their paycheck? Their network of distribution?

    Since the line is so fuzzy, it appears to get drawn arbitrarily at “quality”. It’s an easy road to a false syllogism: All citizen journalists produce bad quality, thus all bad quality must come from citizen journalists.

    If a “citizen journalist” produces unmitigated brilliance, are they suddenly upgraded to professional? If a “professional journalist” uploads to ctzn.tv, are they suddenly a CJ?

    It’s not a criticism aimed at any particular side of the argument, just an attempt to understand its terms. To echo a Rosenblum argument, we don’t have “citizen writers” and “professional writers”, just “writers”, albeit of greatly varying levels of success.

  17. Ben, the dividing line is not fuzzy, people make it fuzzy.

    The simplified version is:
    A professional photographer is one that gets paid; a citizen journalist does not. Citizen journalist is a euphemism for amateur photographer.

    The working difference is that a professional went to school to learn the trade and an amateur didn’t.

    Professionals come in two classifications, staff photographer and freelance photographer.
    Staff photographer earn salaries ranging from 40K to 150K depending on the market, and the experience, see: http://b-roll.net/info/salary/index.php

    Most amateur photographers do it as a hobby, some of them are very good and the only reason that they are not professional is because they already have a good and secured job.

    Freelance photographers are fully equipped with package investment ranging from 100k to 200k. Depending on the equipment used, their daily rates vary from 1,000 to 2,000 per day plus expenses and additional crew.
    The average freelancer works from 160 to 240 days a year.

    The classification of photographers applies also to still photographers but in our case is referred to as TV photographers, cameramen or director of photography (DP).

    Just like in any other trade, having an education is not a guarantee of a job, you have to excel. The goal of a staff photographer (or most staff photographers) is usually to become a freelance, better money, less work, more responsibility, more freedom and no boss.

    Once a freelance you need clients and in order to get clients you have to constantly be better than your competition.

    Keep in mind that the supply far exceed the demand, it’s a very competitive business. The better and more creative you are the more work you get and the better the pay.

  18. Here is how I usually think about a journalist. This is from Wikipedia.

    In the early 19th century, journalist simply meant someone who wrote for journals, such as Charles Dickens in his early career. In the past century it has come to mean a writer for newspapers and magazines as well.

    Many people consider journalist interchangeable with reporter, a person who gathers information and creates a written report or story. However, this overlooks many other types of journalists, including columnists, leader writers, photographers, editorial designers, and sub-editors (British) or copy editors (American). The only major distinction is that designers, writers and art directors who work exclusively on advertising material – that is, material in which the content is shaped by the person buying the ad, rather than the publication – are not considered journalists.

    Regardless of medium, the term journalist carries a connotation or expectation of professionalism in reporting, with consideration for truth, fairness, balance, decency and ethics – although standards can vary widely between publications. Some mass-market newspapers make no pretence of impartiality, though, in countries such as the UK, they generally adhere to an industry-wide code of conduct — such as maintaining truthfulness. Some editors argue that lack of bias is impossible to achieve, so it is, in fact, more honest to adopt an editorial opinion while ensuring material is factually accurate

    By the way, though his is a commercial project and not a journalistic work, I liked Cliff’s underwater camera housing video. I want one of those things.

    Hey Cliff, how about a product sample.

    Nino (you know my personal respect for you, I hope), I don’t see how cliff’s product video is any different than the examples you show on your personal site, except that cliff has better music.

    When I say that, I am going by my memory of only two that I clicked on (one including a guy at a desk talking about his product), compared to the memory of a few days ago of Cliff’s ad. Maybe there are others that I missed. I tried to find that site again just now, but couldn’t find the link off from the EFP site.

    How it sticks in the head is what counts, right? I know to you that the paycheck is also a big consideration, but I obviously don’t have that info.

    Amateur Jim

  19. If they produce quality, they get a quality paycheck.

    It is why I have to laugh when I read about people getting “up to” a thousand dollars for their hard work after they’ve traveled to some far off place, spent time and money on equipment, shooting and editing, then “get a chance” to make such a small one time amount for their hard work.

    Of course, the quality of most of that work, not all, is low so the pay matches the product produced.

    The next question is “what is next” for those hard workers who just got paid so little.

    Will they do it again?

    That is what separates the amateur from the professional.

    The professional is paid to come back and do the job,

    The amateur enjoys a hobby and does something else to pay bills and make a living.

  20. A professional makes a living at his job.

    A citizen journalist does not.

    A pro journalist probably has a college degree where he studied the laws and ethics, craft and practices of journalism.

    A citizen does not.

    The pro journalist is trained, as stated above, to be fair, balanced, ethical, and get the facts right. I was taught…if one single fact is wrong…you have failed. We would get an F if one fact was wrong. A citizen does not get trained that way.

    I do understand, however, the ambiguities being raised now with the internet, CTZN.TV and citizens being able to publish articles, facts, and opinions on their own.

    Hence the debate. We are in the middle of this change, and we are discussing and debating the changes taking place before our eyes.

    Its an interesting time.

  21. Jim wrote:
    “When I say that, I am going by my memory of only two that I clicked on (one including a guy at a desk talking about his product), compared to the memory of a few days ago of Cliff’s ad. Maybe there are others that I missed. I tried to find that site again just now, but couldn’t find the link off from the EFP site.”

    I don’t like desks

    nino-g.com

    The stuff there is at least over 7 years old, I just realized that my youngest son is in the Cypress Hyatt videos, he is the one coming down the water slide, he is a senior in HS now. My family is in many of those resort videos, that’s how we’ve been taking our vacation for the last 20 years, my clients pay for their trip and we use them as extras. Those are some of the hidden perks in this business.

    One of these days I bring the demos up to date. I don’t really have to because nobody is asking for and when they as that’s ask what’s there is plenty. But it would be nice to see some new stuff.

    This brings up a good point, if you stay conservative with your shooting (no MTV stuff, no moving camera, no weird angles) the footage remains timeless.

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