Mark Johnson, photojournalism lecturer at the University of Georgia, found himself in an ethical dilemma when he had to choose between two photos of a union rally —one was of the participants quietly discussing the issues (they did this for three hours) another was of them yelling and scream (only for five minutes of the three hours) — and he chose the first one.
“[The second image] was really dramatic, but not representative of the overall story,” he said. “[A citizen journalist on the scene] made an image that was really dramatic and the next morning there was the article with the dynamic photograph but no where in [the article] does the reporter talk about people yelling and screaming.”
With the easy of technology always at our fingertips, citizen journalists have created many ethical dilemmas, including whether or not to use a citizen journalist’s photograph that cannot be verified, but it is dynamic and timely.
Johnson said he questions what the future holds for news organizations with the emergence of a new information outlet — citizen journalists.
“Because we don’t have people looking at the big picture we are now going to run into situations where we run images that aren’t accurate and that aren’t a fair depiction of what happened,” he said.
Mobile snappers are taking photos to please others such as news organizations and friends. They want to be the first to have a photo of an historic event and share their findings with the world. Also by news organizations using the interesting photo, they probably will sell more copies and, in turn, sell more ad space.
Credibility is one of the main issues here. Photojournalists cannot be everywhere, but mobile snappers can. However, trusting that mobile snappers are getting an accurate photo depicting an event cannot be confirmed because they don’t follow the same ethics a journalist adheres to. The context of an event can change when an image is framed a certain way.
One can also argue that citizen journalists are trying to create more transparency in the world, in which everyone is held accountable for their actions.
In recent years, some of the most powerful photos have come from mobile snappers including ones from the London bombings and Asian Tsunamis.
Getty images bought the company Scoopt, which acts as a middleman between mobile snappers and news organizations. Mobile snappers send in their photo submissions, the company ensures the photos authenticity, and then splits the profit from selling it to a news organization.
"If someone is there and gets the picture that is truly evocative and captures the moment, they deserve to be published," Kyle MacRae, founder of Scoopt said in an interview with the BBC. "I think citizen journalism has the potential to change what we think of as newsworthy events. A lot does not get reported because they have not been photographed."