The Power or Problem of the People: The Role of Citizen Journalism

Guest Post: Haley Veres, student journalist

When I see a protest of the president-elect or an arrest being made on Marquette’s campus, my first thought is never to take out my phone and shoot video. However, it is those who think to whip out their cell phones that make history.

It was Rakeyia Scott’s cell phone video that was the catalyst for protests and advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement. Like philosopher Immanuel Kant, Rakeyia Scott believed in her intentions of filming her husband’s confrontation with police. Even when her husband was shot, Rakeyia Scott continued to shoot video with the intention of sharing this story. Her actions sparked protests, and the story made national news, which, I believe, she did not imagine when began taking video on her phone. She intended to show how police, especially considering the news coverage of African American men who have been shot by police, confronted her husband.

oneslidephotography-comHowever, had I been in Rakeyia Scott’s position, I would have highly considered the consequences of such a video being recorded. Who would see this video, and how would they respond? Could this video trigger protest and spread like wildfire on social media? How would those who see the video view my partner? What lasting effects could this video have on my family, my community, and my partner’s memory? I would compare myself to philosopher John Stuart Mill and his views on consequentialism. Even if I had good intentions in shooting a video or taking a picture of a newsworthy event, if there could be undesirable consequences, I may not engage in the situation.

Every person who has the ability to shoot video or take pictures has a great responsibility and power especially as citizen journalists. The problem is a person’s ethical mindset when making the decision to start recording. Do they consider their personal intentions in the affair or the consequences of their actions, or is their moral conscience undermined by the split-second decision to shoot pictures and video? The citizen journalist must use a moral thought process, whether they consider their action’s intentions or their action’s consequences. Their voice can have as much power or influence over others as a professional reporter or journalist. As much as we hold professional journalists and reporters responsible for ethical and unbiased news stories, we have to hold citizen journalists such as Rakeyia Scott to the same standards.

While moral deliberation seems time-consuming when news is unfolding before you, it is your responsibility as a citizen journalist to understand the ethical implications of the photos you take or the video you shoot.

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