ITV welcomes the 'video witnesses'

By Jonathan Munro 

How many people do you know who don’t have a mobile phone? Probably a handful — if that. We are shockingly reliant on them, and we carry them with us virtually everywhere. Within the next few years, most will be camera capable.

If you’re asking whether that’s good or bad, you’re on the wrong question. It’s happening, and we need to embrace it.

First, let’s get the language right.

"Citizen journalist" is a dangerous phrase and people in our industry use it every day. They shouldn’t.

Mr Bloggs witnessing and filming an event is not a journalist. He doesn’t check facts, find context, and look for second sources. He’s more valuable than an eyewitness, who gets things wrong — passengers at Stockwell said Jean Charles de Menezes vaulted the barriers in his padded jacket, for example. They had allowed their brains to absorb chatter and overwrite their own memory.

Mr Bloggs with his cameraphone can’t do that. So I call him a "video witness".

Better than an eyewitness, but miles away from being a journalist.

What if Mr Bloggs goes to an event just so he can film it, maybe thinking of his fee from a hungry broadcaster? Worse — what if he gets hurt there? You can see the responsibility claims pouring in. Or he offers up footage of a riot or protest, which, unknown to you, he sparked in the first place. All difficult areas.

As a starting point, we at ITV News will ask for pictures after an event, but not in advance. Culturally, we may all become more proactive, but at this very early stage being reactive feels better.

And it is an early stage. All sorts of issues will hit us, and it’ll be rare to have a big breaking story without someone capturing it on their mobile. But we, as an industry, are good at change — and as our audiences increasingly use phones to watch their news as well as gather it — they’re changing too.

Jonathan Munro is deputy editor of ITV News. 

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