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The Citizen Reporter as Eyewitness
Praise for student's footage of Virginia Tech mass killing
Lily Yulianti (myfawwaz)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2007-04-18 10:46 (KST)   
On a CNN Larry King Live special report of the student massacre at Virginia Tech that saw 33 people killed King praised Jamal Albarghouti, the Palestinian graduate student who took the eyewitness footage of the immediate aftermath on his cellphone.

At roughly 10 a.m. Albarghouti was at the Blacksburg, VA campus to meet with his graduate adviser. He sensed that something terrible had just happened on campus, explaining, "Everyone (was) running and screaming. The situation was so frightening. I ran to a safe place and then decided to record the situation using my cellphone."

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He then sent his video to CNN's I-Report, a citizen-reporter video blog site, which repeatedly used it to accompany its other reporting of the incident. This has been without doubt the worst mass shooting tragedy in U.S. history, and Albarghouti was the one to capture the incident for the world.

His footage, some of it shaky, set the scene inside the campus: an empty road outside a nearby building being approached by three police officers, then sounds of gunshots registering almost simultaneously, the last sounding like a bomb blast.

In the CNN interview with Larry King, Albarghouti explained how the scene reminded him of his homeland of Palestine. King and another CNN news anchor tried to get at why Albarghouti decided not to dash for safety with other students and staffers, but chose to stand fast and record the incident. "Weren't you scared? What sort of cellphone did you use? Did you think you were really safe at that time?"

His response was to demonstrate the value of a citizen reporter in providing an on-the-sport report of a history-making, traumatic event, in having the gadget at the ready to take the footage, and in having the presence of mind and the passion to play his historical role. He was not the only eyewitness, but also stood his ground as a resourceful citizen reporter, taking the initiative to record the scene.

We can understand how CNN's professional journalists and a famous TV personality like Larry King could be so taken with Albarghouti's "journalism skill." Tempted to discount the capability of ordinary citizens in their chosen field of journalism, there are many well-trained professional journalists, proud of their skill and experience, who become intrigued whenever an unsung citizen reporter performs such a heroic act of historical reportage.

Apart from the unevenness of the footage he provided, Albarghouti showed that being confident in the use of his cellphone and uploading the resulting footage could be taken as matters of course. Above all, he provided King a clear and firm account of the situation, exactly in the manner of a professional TV journalist making a live report. What added special depth and human interest to this live report was his being reminded of the grievous situation in his own country when hearing the gun shots on campus. 쏧 am quite familiar with the sound of gunshots, because they remind me of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. But when I saw it was happening here, in a peaceful place like this, it was hard to believe."

Such was the personal background of a citizen-reporter that made Larry King say later, "What an irony ..."

Again, Albarghouti and his cellphone video have shown the power of the ordinary citizen to capture a news event. Granted that the efforts of ordinary people as citizen journalists are a matter for debate, the traditional media still make a reflexively negative comparison between citizen journalism and that provided by their professionals. Interestingly, when presented with a citizen who sent an exclusive report to the mainstream media, as Albarghouti did to CNN's I-Report, they insist on wondering, in grudging amazement, "What made you record the event? How did you record it?"

Of course, the mainstream media should first of all be thankful, because there is a live video record from the site. The role of Albarghouti was not only that of eyewitness but also of a citizen reporter who in fact provided a high-quality report for CNN.

In raising questions like these, professionals in the media show a tendency to overlook the existence of many ordinary citizens out there who embrace the idea of participatory journalism, people who have shifted from being passive media consumers to active citizen reporters, believing they can create a better society if they get involved in conveying the news. They make videos, they write on various issues and they raise their voices. As for the mainstream media, they have begun to open their doors to citizen reporters, seeing that their well-trained professionals cannot always respond quickly enough to reach the location of an epochal event.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Lily Yulianti

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