Wednesday 26 May 2010

What price Citizen Journalism?

A post on Twitter yesterday yanked me back to citizen journalism, the topic of this year's Borderlines Debate, Here Comes Everyone:).

What happened was that three images tweeted by a team member of Just Do It, (documentary in the making about the climate camps) were appropriated by the Daily Mail without any form of payment or accreditation. The photos showed queues of voters being turned away from their polling station in Dalston on election night.

Mindful of Christian (Documentally) Payne's advice at Here Comes Everyone:

Emily James, one of the climate camp speakers at the event, invoiced the Mail's Picture Editor only to receive a predictably evasive rebuttal. Read the full background and correspondence here.

It comes down to value. On the ground, Just Do It had caught something of the moment that traditional reporting mechanisms had failed to capture on the Mail's behalf. Nevertheless, using the well-worn amateur/professional yardstick, the paper is seeking to DE-value the pictures by claiming that they are in the public domain.

Citizen journalism coexists. Indeed the public is encouraged to feed old school print and broadcast media with photos and mobile phone footage of breaking events. But the value balance remains precarious; CJ also represents a challenge and threat to the way things have always been done.

When citizen journalism picks up on events that would normally be suppressed - and the film Burma VJ is moving and overwhelming testimony to that - it is priceless, subversive. No-one would dispute that.

On the other hand, with the means to record anything cheaply and well at our fingertips there's also a lot of blather out there. A question from floor during the Here Comes Everyone debate made the point that Christian Payne is special (in terms of talent, facility, initiative), a specialist, if you like, but many who tote cameras and other technology are not. How can we find our way through a sea of voices and distractions?

Back in the '80s I worked on a documentary for Channel 4 about the Super 8 film format. It explored the way home movie cameras were being used for purposes other than those they had been designed for.

One of the people we interviewed was Gwynne Roberts a freelance war reporter who took Super 8 cameras with him on missions to Kurdistan precisely because of what he called "their Mickey Mouse quality". He, a professional journalist for ITN, The Sunday Times and others, went undercover as an amateur to appear harmless, to slip through defences. Later he became one of the few people to interview Osama Bin Laden (Dispatches: The Saudi Tapes).

We also featured a Bolivian organisation that had gone into the country's remote Altiplano region to enable peasants who had never seen or even conceived of film in their lives to make a movie about how a land dispute by their community had been suppressed by the military. Their method was to train them, to show what had been done before and give people the means and the expertise to tell their own story. And this is the key.

The immediacy of being in a certain place at a particular moment is what we buy into with citizen journalism. That sense of authenticity can, however,  be replicated as a style. This is something we need to be aware of, both as media-makers and media-consumers.

The other film that made up part of Here Comes Everyone was The Yes Men Fix the World was all to do with hoaxes, the fact that two self-styled jokers in cheap suits managed to swipe 2 billion dollars off the market price of a multinational company by going on to News 24 and lying (semi-convincingly).

And elsewhere at Borderlines Chris Atkins's Starsuckers revealed the gullibility not just of the public but of a venal media industry, greedy for sensationalism.

So the moral seems to be:
Check the facts.
Keep your wits about you.
Get media-literate
Just do it!

Saturday 22 May 2010

Tyneside birthday treat: programming democracy

Today, Saturday 22 May, is the second birthday of Newcastle's refurbished Tyneside Cinema. To celebrate, the venue's three cinemas have largely been given over to movies chosen by members of the public.

Take Over Tyneside comprises seventeen films from The Red Balloon at 10.45am all the way through to Eraserhead at 11pm. It's fascinating to take a look at the sheer range of the selection: classics like Dark Victory and Rear Window, not to mention Koyaanasqatsi, Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as I Don't Want To Sleep Alone, a low key Malaysian film from 2007 about companionship on the edge of society.

Each person had to state why they nominated a particular film and will be presenting their choice to the audience so four-year-old Lily Matthews will be introducing Heidi.

Sounds an intriguing experiment. Hope it's not scuppered by too much unprecedented sun.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Young Farmers at Hay Festival Friday 28 May

If you enjoyed or missed the sell-out documentary-in-progress Young Farmers at Borderlines 2010  there's the opportunity to catch an update at the forthcoming Hay Festival.

Hereford-based Cantilupe Projects is filming members of the Herefordshire Federation of Young Farmers Clubs over a year: breeding the perfect dairy cow, laying a good hedge, parting sheep after a season on the Black Mountain, trying to find affordable housing - the passionate, authentic voices of farming’s ‘new blood’ talk about their work and the issues that affect their rural communities.

The event is at 9pm on Friday 28 May in The Ritzy tent on the Hay Festival site and will involve a short introduction from the director, Anne Cottringer, screening of extracts from the film, presentations from some more of the young farmers who have participated in the project and the opportunity to discuss the issues that the documentary raises. Footage is still being shot and the event gives a sneak preview of a truly local film-in-the-making. Book here.

If you can't make it, the documentary now has its own website (initiated in the Talk About Local workshop that was part of the Citizen Journalism event at Borderlines this year), featuring a different video clip from the film each week. There are also short extracts of the three young speakers, Richard Thomas, Ben Pritchard and Jono Rogers, at the event.

Monday 17 May 2010

David Gillam reports from Cannes Film Festival: A Screaming Man

I saw A Screaming Man today - very WOW (Wales One World Festival) - builds slowly to an emotional climax that it really earns, having created such solid well-rounded characters.

Le Quattro Volte (the one concerning goats that everyone is talking about) tomorrow.

Sunday 16 May 2010

David Gillam reports from Cannes Film Festival: Aurora

The most interesting film I've seen is Cristian (Death of Mr Lazarescu) Puiu's Aurora that succeeds in something quite unusual - making murder totally mundane.

Again it is 3 hours long. For the vast majority of that time nothing happens. A man skulks around Bucharest doing mundane chores, sometimes spying on people. Halfway through he murders 4 people in quick succession - and then carries on as before.

Extraordinary and ordinary woven seamlessly together.