Mobile phone video spawns era of citizen journalist

The cell phone is poised to have a big impact on the ENG industry, making everyone a news photographer
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The technology gained international visibility during last year’s Asian tsunami. Then it left an indelible impression three weeks ago in the hours after a terrorist attack in London. Now, its viability as an ENG tool is prompting news organizations to solicit coverage from the average citizen.

Major American news outlets, including the big three networks, are gearing up to easily accept still and motion video images from mobile phone users who find themselves in the midst of breaking news stories.

Within days after the London bombings, the news staff of WABC-TV, the local ABC affiliate in New York, started soliciting mobile phone pictures and amateur video from viewers who witnessed a news event. The requests are being made on air by the station’s anchors and on its Web site,

Kenny Plotnik, vice president and news director of WABC, told the New York Times that the station’s requests for viewer submissions warn amateur photographers not to endanger themselves to get a good shot and caution that their cellular carrier may charge them for sending data to an email address at the station. WABC’s Web site recommends technical parameters for the mobile phone media and includes a legal release for uses of the images.

News organizations have solicited news tips and encouraged viewer participation for years. But the new mobile imaging technology — widespread, cheap and easy to use —offers new possibilities for television newsgathering.

If mobile phone cameras had been more common during the blackout in the Northeast two years ago, news coverage would have been very different, observed Mark Lukasiewicz, executive producer of NBC news specials.

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