A panel at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas last weekend discussed the future of moblogging — the art of creating online journals composed mostly of photos uploaded in part direct from camera-phones — and, in part, whether such activities may threaten journalism. With so many folk armed with camera phones — and some even knowing how to use them — might they be better placed to record momentous events than journalists and photographers?
Heather Somers, managing editor of the excellent Weblog of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review, reports from the conference that at least one panelist was unconvinced. Molly Steenson, a professor at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, Italy, said journalists should have no fear that they will be replaced by roving digital chroniclers. “They’re not a threat — we shouldn’t even be going there,” Somers quoted her as saying.
I’d agree. A blurry lo-res snap is not the same as a decent photo professionally taken. But camera phones bring to the table two important things: immediacy and ubiquity. If we can get pictures onto the web within seconds of an event occurring, that means that events small and large are likely to be available to a lot of people very quickly (remember that camera phones work both ways: It’s possible to receive photos as well as transmit them.) The ubiquity thing — everyone has them, and everyone is everywhere — also means that few events are likely to be witnessed without someone with access to a cameraphone.
The bottom line: While journalists are used to writing history’s first draft, I think they (we, I guess) need to get used to the idea that there may be an even earlier draft, written by tech-savvy individuals who are on the spot and have the technology to get their version, along with pictures, out to the world more quickly than we can. We need to adjust to that. In fact it’s a great resource: Now we have witnesses who can show what they saw. Would we still be in a state of confusion if moblogging had been available at the time of JFK’s assassination?
Will mobloggers replace photojournalism? No, but I think they will change it.