Zapruder's Children


Looking back at the London bombings, the Los Angeles Times points out how much the media relied on footage from camera phones:

Because tight security prevented news crews from quickly reaching the bombing sites, the cellphone footage was all that was immediately available from underground. Its instant embrace by traditional news networks underscored how an evolving technology can take on new and unexpected roles….

British television network ITN received dozens of video clips, some by e-mail and others from survivors of the blasts who brought their phones directly to the London newsroom. Some of the video clips were too gruesome too air, according to one senior editor.

Sky News aired a haunting 20-second clip captured by a commuter on a train between the King's Cross and Russell Square stations, who e-mailed it to the British television network, Fox News' sister channel. It showed lines of people filing through dark tunnels under greenish lights and an alarmed man staring at the camera, part of his face obscured by a cloth over his mouth. BBC aired video from cellphones throughout the day, as well.

The British channels distributed the footage to other networks, including those in the United States. The amateur video clips quickly became a staple of the news coverage.

I made a similar point after 9/11, when so much of the footage we saw was captured by ordinary people who happened to have cameras with them. Any unexpected disaster is more likely to be taped by an amateur than by a professional, if only because the professional crews just aren't likely to be on the scene. As video-equipped mobile phones become more common, the percentage of footage generated by amateurs will only increase. In some cases, like the e-mailed digital photos that revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib, a story might not emerge at all without the new media.

That's worth remembering when you hear people complain that most blogs rely on the old media to do their reporting for them. That they do. But the old media, in turn, depend increasingly on the new.