Monday, December 4, 2006

You Report. We Decide.

Following CNN's I-Report, an experiment in journalism democracy where any jackass with a computer, internet connection, and hands can submit a history-alerting report on "What does your workspace say about you?" or "Is severe weather happening near you," Reuters posted an entry in their editors' blog inviting amateur photographers to send them digital photos of news as it's breaking. They have a "strategic alliance" with Yahoo called You Witness — which annoys me, because if they had the strategic alliance with CNN, they could call it I-Witness, and that's a pun that actually makes some sense. So let's say you're in the middle of a South Asian typhoon, but you're a little too comfortable huddling in the corner of your straw hut, hoping the seawater doesn't flood in and drown you. You could grab your cameraphone, take some pictures of giant waves crashing down on the boats and palm trees, and e-mail those pics to Reuters, where they'll put them on their website and not pay you. Good deal.

I'm not saying that any old person can't be in the right place and the right time and get a newsworthy snapshot, but Reuters casting a super-wide net hunting for photos isn't so much about good journalism as it is about pandering to our sense of post-modern egalitarianism, where anybody can do anything and distinctions in quality are irrelevant, like YouTube or the People's Choice Awards. I can see what's next: All of America votes on our favorite inane news photo — Will it be "Skateboarding Dog?" Or how about maybe "Highway Accident Kills Five?" — and Reuters can award them the meaningless distinction of Stringer Idol, where they'll be fawned over for a week before being forced to take pictures for Ford Motor's advertising department.

Reuters's photo guidelines reflect the sad shift in the media from reporting what's newsworthy (i.e. ethnic slaughter in Sudan) to what's popular (i.e., Michael Richards unable to hold his racist tongue). Here's what they say makes a good picture:

Most importantly, it will be of interest to a wide audience. It may depict an event in the news: a train crash, a clash in the streets, deliriously happy fans the moment the big game is won.
No, no, and no, you facile nitwits! I think if you check out Reuters's Oddly Enough section, you can tell that the editors really understand that what makes something necessarily worth publishing isn't that superficial. Every time there's a major sporting event, one team wins and another loses, and the fans react; what makes for an interesting picture is a single image that captures and can stand in for the whole event and atmosphere.

Well, no longer. Thanks to the 24-hour news networks turning every single stupid event into news (I should say, every single stupid event, as long as it happens in America) and the Internet making every single stupid event available to the world, the distinction between real news that really affects people and random stuff that just happens is gone. Again, from our friends at Reuters:
Or it may not be of a strictly ‘news’ event. It could be an out-of-the-ordinary moment in time in an otherwise ordinary day. Something that has novelty and impact. For example, a model falling over her huge heels on the catwalk, or a fox running up Downing Street, or a fire station catching fire, or a mouse hitching a lift on the back of a toad during a flood.
I could make fun of how slow a news day it would have to be before Reuters reported on that mouse and toad story, but I won't. Some people will think it's cute, and that's all well and good for them. It's just not important. Like, I'm as big of a fan as anyone of vacuous models tripping over their ridiculous footwear, and I'd bookmark the damn clip on iFilm along with this and this. But I also realize that there's a larger world out there, and it's selfish and solipsistic to waste Reuters's resources on my own parochial preferences. This is what MySpace is for.