Online Content and Hurricane Katrina

    September 12, 2005

The Internet is changing the way people view the world, both in terms what’s out there and what’s not out there. With the prolific disaster along the Gulf Coast, FEMA requested media new organizations not show the dead in their coverage of the aftermath. As we’re finding out, bloggers and photographers are providing stories and images that probably won’t make the nightly news.

One blog, quickly becoming one of my favorites, is B.L. Ochman’s “what’snextblog” and she points out that the individual photographers aren’t beholdin’ to anyone and they are posting some rather disturbing images that larger organizations wouldn’t do.

One thing Ochman mentioned in the blog entry was an editorial by Steve Outing of the Poynter Institute For Media Studies and a columnist for Editor and Publisher Online. He discussed the impact of citizen photojournalists and the fact that they don’t adhere to all the ethical rules in journalism today because they aren’t professionals.

He pointed out FEMA’s request to new organizations is kind of moot:

Ergo, FEMA’s request that journalists “take it easy” with publishing images of dead bodies is really rather pointless. Such images will become public because members of the public will make them so.

FEMA and the federal government do have a vested interest in attempting to exercise some sort of control over the imagery. In some cases it could possibly affect their ability to do their job. Realistically, it also would continue to fuel the criticism the government at all levels has suffered as a result of this disaster and its response time. On the other hand, many would argue that “freedom of speech and the press” is something of an absolute in this country.

Regardless of the what FEMA wants, it would be extraordinarily difficult for them to monitor images that begin to show up on Flickr and other photosharing sites and citizens are already posting images of the dead and other gruesome sights and while this is just one example of how this citizen photojournalism is developing, in many cases, citizen journalism on the internet in general is one of the best sources of information because it’s refreshingly uncensored and unedited. Many lack polish certainly and there are other issues but all in all, blogs are becoming a legitimate source of news in and of themselves.

This situation is only going to grow in the future as many individuals interested in controlling flows of information will find it tougher to do. Whether you’re a government administrator, a corporate executive or just some dolt actor who’s trying to keep their homemade sex video out of the news, people want to be able to control, to an extent, their image and message. As citizen journalism continues to grow, they will lose some of their ability to do that.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.