Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

Jamal Albarghouti Spotlights the Role of Citizen Journalists in VA Tech Massacre

On Monday, April 16th, Jamal Albarghouti made a consciously editorial decision that the chaos happening – right there – all around him on the Virginia Tech campus, was something that he should record on his video enabled camera. To fight the wise instinct to protect ones life – to set that aside and decide to pick up a camera, turn it on, and roll – can only be described as an act of journalism. I’ve been in situations where I’ve actively chosen to pick up my camera an roll, despite enormous risk to my life so I admire Albarghouti because of his actions. Albarghouti then posted this video to CNN’s I-Report (hello NBC!!)


Jamal Albarghouti being interviewed

So it was a very big moment for me to have the opportunity to meet Jamal Albarghouti yesterday. He was doing interviews with other TV, so I walked up and “cherry picked” (loosley defined as glomming off someone else’s already in-progress interview) with my Canon Powershot. Just as I was going to ask my own questions to Albarghouti, he was whisked away (literally grabbed by the arm), by an insistent Canadian TV producer. So I’ve hobbled together a very rough video of Albarghouti responding to reporter questions. I wish I’d had more time with him, but just as he rushed off, I had a live shot to attend to myself! On a technical note, Jamal’s tool of choice is the Nokia N70 (I suggested he may want to look at the N95).




Jamal Albarghouti speaks to news cameras on his role in recording horrifying events at Virginia Tech on his video enabled cell phone.

New Tee Vee has a useful post on Albarghouti, with links for further discussion. Jonny Goldstein points out the value of big media teaming up with citizen media makers on his blog.

This again raises the issues of citizen jouralism. Is Jamal Albarghouti a “journalist” because he comitted an “act of journalism”? I certainly think he has the right instincts to be a fine photojournalist. There are those out there who would like to see enitre news operations built on solo journalists with video phones. I think that idea is gimmicky. I do believe that given no pictures, or the pictures of a courageous, resourceful individual with keen editorial instincts and a video enabled phone… I’ll take grainy, shaky cell phone video any day. This demonstrates that technology provides the means not the end, an option not the solution. Jamal provided a courageous first person point of view, and big media provided more in depth context and coverage. What do you think?

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  • http://www.rosenblumtv.com Rosenblum

    I think you will find that a few of the pulitzer prizes in spot news photography have been won by ‘amateurs’ with cameras who were in the right place at the right time and had a good eye. Are they journalists? I suppose that that is really up to the individual holding the camera.

  • http://www.digitalthom.com Thom Allen

    Jim, I fully understand the potential risk Jamal took when shooting the video, but I was numb to it’s journalistic effort when every news agency in the world kept running it hour after hour.

    As much as I want to see life play out in full video, some of it just doesn’t carry enough quality to be of value. You only get a few seconds to capture a viewers attention and if the video is shaky or out of focus, we have to spend too much time trying to process the image and will miss the story.

    I’m all behind citizen journalism. I’m all for people capturing events as they happen and then sharing them with the world. I can’t wait to see more of it. I’ve started using my phones video feature more and more. In fact I tried to video an accident this morning but it was too dark to register on the screen. But I’m sure I’ll have more chances.

    And finally Jim, I really want to thank you for giving your readers here and on Twitter a behind the scenes look and feel of the events at VT. I don’t get a chance to watch the TV news so it was exciting to get all your tweets. Thanks again.

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  • vergenewmedia

    Thom and Michael thank you both for interesting perspectives. Thom thanks for giving a shout out to my twitters!

  • Mark

    I think good sound is as important as the excellent video Jim shoots. I just hope is network thinks so, too, and continues to employ people like the ones Jim worked with this week.

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  • http://www.myurbanreport.com Amani Channel

    Here’s another example of how small cameras can assist in newsgathering. My brother, who has the same media freak gene as I do, keeps his small Canon Zr50 with him at all times. The other day he came upon a car fire, and though he is an editor, his journalistic “instincts” kicked in, and he shot it. He then proceeded to call his station and of course they wanted his footage. He didn’t get paid as a stringer, cuz he’s already a full-time, but it illustrates that you never know when you’re going to catch a newsworthy moment. I think stations would be wise to equip all employees from sales on down with inexpensive camcorders and then train them in the basics…. hold that shot still… and shoot wide, medium, and tight!

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  • Mark

    I think good sound is as important as the excellent video Jim shoots. I just hope is network thinks so, too, and continues to employ people like the ones Jim worked with this week.

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