When the role of citizen journalists overrated and lead to catastrophe
In last few days, Tehran, The capital of Iran has witnessed two separate events.
Three days ago a quad copter flew over the no-fly zone of Tehran. As a result, the anti-aircraft guns over the central part of Tehran started to shoot against it. Whole event took around five minutes and story ended when the drone flew out of the zone.
Today one of the historical buildings on downtown Tehran caught fire. The Plasco building which had been built in 1962 was at the center of one of the most crowded parts of the city. A few minutes later the building collapsed on itself, while the firefighters and first-responders were still inside the building. At this moment that I am writing these words, still many of them are trapped under the collapsed building.
What is common in these two events?
Both of them highlight one of the challenges that the idea of citizen journalism presents.
In the first accident we are talking about the people who have experience of eight years war, witnessed the bombing and still have a clear memory of what the sound of anti-aircraft over the city could mean. However as soon as firing started, they came out to the streets and rooftops, taking pictures and videos and posting them to the social Medias.
Many of them posted their photos and videos to the news network and organizations that encourage them to capture every moment of every accident. What should a citizen do in this situation? Probably the first thing that crosses our mind is safety.
At that time people still were not aware of what was going on. It could be an air strike. Therefore they should have thought about take shelters and try to keep our family safe.
Instead, people came out to the streets and open areas and put their lives in danger. You can name many reasons to explain this behavior and one of them is the hunger for taking photos and video and live reporting.
The 2nd accident was more disturbing. Few seconds after the fire started lots of people came out and crowded the street. There are some photos of this event showing how people banned the street. They caused such a heavy traffic which made reaching to the scene hard and even impossible for the firefighters and first-responders and refused to open the street for them.
In a very sad photo of this event, you can see all of them pointed their cell phones to the scene and even some of them climbed over the firefighter’s trucks to have a better shot.
It is not clear yet but there is a good chance that if the crowd would have let the first-responders to do their job, the numbers of casualties were lower.
The new technologies empower us. Now everyone with a cell phone has a potential power to report a story that we all could miss. These technologies brought us the concept of citizen journalism. People find a voice and tool to share the important stories. This is something that we all should celebrate. Many of media organizations ask people to be their citizen reporters and sometimes this idea makes us, the journalists, lazy. We forget that we are trained journalists and we can’t transfer our job to regular people.
In an accident, when there are no media at the scene and when you and your family are safe, when you are not blocking the help which is most needed at the time, It is absolutely great and valuable that you take out your phone and start to capture that moment. We – as professional journalists – should always remind people that your reporting is valuable but it is not your first priority. If you put yourself and people around you in danger, if you block the help that can save lives, to take a photo or video, then you have to carry a great burden of the consequences for the rest of your life.
Professional journalists and photographers got trained and have the experience to do their job without conflicting with valuable and life-saving work of first-responders.
The new technology brought us great power but it should be a responsibility in using this power.
I always support the citizen journalism but sometimes we should take a moment, think about our actions and its consequences and then decide what our priority as a citizen is.
Of course there are many reasons behind the whole idea of this hunger for capturing everything, taking selfies at any moments and the feeling, that if we don’t share something on the social media then we are going to be left behind.
One of those reasons could be related to overstating and overrating the idea of citizen journalism. Professional journalist and news organizations should be more careful when they invite untrained people to put their life and other people’s life in danger.
Today is a sad day for Tehran. Even now some of the real heroes are still trapped under the building. Let’s don’t forget them and their families and pray for their safety.