Voyeurism vs Journalism

by Jessie Roberts

Erika Thorkelson worries that camera phones encourage people to document others’ bad behavior rather than attempt to intervene:

Many professional journalists agonize over the ethics of this kind of reporting. Some argue that journalistic objectivity overrides any particular responsibility to act. Photojournalists train themselves to grab their cameras and start shooting before they fully recognize what’s happening around them, believing that documenting the moment does more long-term good than acting to stop it, or at least fulfills a separate but necessary societal obligation. But what happens when everyone with a camera phone sees him or herself as a journalist on a story, when everyone is a fly on the wall?

[This] brings to mind a classic This American Life story from 2007 about a craze for fake newscasts that took over an elementary school [see above video].

Children built elaborate cameras out of construction paper and toilet paper rolls, and began reporting on everything they saw. The school’s principal told Ira Glass that the trend reached its height when he discovered a brutal fight in the schoolyard, one student pummeling the other. Crowding around the fight, students were “breathlessly reporting” on what they saw, turning it into a news story rather than going for help.

Thanks to our phones, most of us carry cameras everywhere we go. Like journalists reporting on our own lives, our experiences become part of a narrative, honed in order to endear us to our various social media connections. We live with our faces angled toward the screens of our various devices, oblivious to the events beyond the viewfinder. Our bodies stilled to reduce shaking and our eyes trained on the screen, our filming—no matter how well-framed or widely shared, no matter how much attention we receive for it afterward—remains passive. We project the control we exert over the image we’re creating onto the experience itself, giving us a false sense of power, when in reality we have done very little.