Commercial photographer Carlos Chiossone took this phot […]
When the world cast their eyes on the photos of the two Boston bombers, they did so thanks to the work of citizen journalists who responded to calls from law enforcement to report suspicious activity spotted near the scene of the finish line explosion.
Two years ago, when the world learned of the Bahraini uprising, they did so through social media reports issued by Bahrainis on the ground, capturing the reality large news outlets, including Al Jazeera, failed to respond to.
The rape and subsequent cover-up of a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio by members of a football team who considered themselves the “rape squad” was an entire story told through a community blogger — a woman who felt compelled to take images of the perpetrators’ disturbing tweets regarding the crime before they were deleted and covered by local media.
And when the world learned of police brutality against peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters, it wasn’t due to coverage by major news outlets like CNN or the New York Times — it was due to the work of dedicated citizen journalists who contributed their own effort to document what they believed to be the real issue of the time.
The benefits of citizen journalism have since been acknowledged by major players in the media industry, who recognize the flow of information by those capturing events in real time is good news for the industry. In April, CNN released a narrowed-down list of their top citizen journalists of the year, whose work had been published at CNN’s iReports, the network’s website devoted entirely to citizen work.
New York Times foreign correspondent Nick Kristof has also applauded non-professionals who recognize news and use digital photos and camcorders to capture the events as they unfold. In a 2012 interview with Mathew Ingram, he commends citizen journalists as key to capturing the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Having people shooting videos everywhere provides a useful level of accountability,” he said. “A lot of people including me were really taken aback by the videos of police violence during Occupy Wall Street. A decade ago nobody would have known about that because there wouldn’t have been a reporter there and even if someone did write about it, it wouldn’t have been that dramatic.”
Recognizing the perks of citizen journalism, The Guardian has launched a “citizen journalist app” intended to provide anyone and everyone with an easy-to-use method of transferring images, videos and tips. The “Guardian Witness” app also serves as a resource for citizen journalists, providing tips on shooting videos and how best to capture the story.
Hurricane Sandy — untold stories told through citizens
In the midst of Hurricane Sandy, the New York Times paired with Instagram and Facebook to created instacane.com, considered a landing page for all Instagram photos relating to the storm. In one broad stroke of citizen journalism, the New York Times published those photos alongside staff coverage of the storm.
The hurricane also allowed for citizen journalists living near the destruction to venture out and tell the stories of those whose lives had been torn apart, while larger media outlets focused on “bigger picture” stories.
One of those journalists was commercial photographer Carlos Chiossone, whose work was regularly published on CNN’s iReports. A New Yorker and 25-year veteran photographer, Chiossone was drawn to document the scenes through videography, capturing not only images of destruction but the stories of those living through it.
While many were fleeing the destruction Hurricane Sandy left in her wake, Chiossone was walking in, armed with a camera and a curiosity that can get lost in today’s fast-paced world of professional journalism.
His work, which was eventually picked up by CNN, told the compelling stories of victims whose homes had been destroyed and were dealing with the bureaucracy associated with FEMA and insurance companies.
Janice Kennedy was one of those victims. A resident of New Dorp Beach, Chiossone learned her story, documented it and felt compelled to share it with the world. Through tears, she told her story. Her husband had died three years prior to Hurricane Sandy — they had been married in the house that Sandy would eventually destroy. A mother to a two-and-a-half-year-old and a 21-year-old, Kennedy was preparing to leave her home and the memories it held.
Images captured by Chiossone showed Kennedy’s home; as she said in the film, “There’s nothing left.”
Following the classic motivation of true journalism, he wanted to give a voice to the voiceless — and hopefully help them in the process.
“I wanted to do it because I wanted to help the people,” Chiossone said in an interview with Mint Press News.
And help he did. While his work was published by CNN as a journalistic piece, he also used his mini-documentaries as leverage with insurance companies holding out on victims. While not specifying the name of the insurance company, he was able to use his work to the benefit of three victims who had been denied proper coverage from the storm. For him, that made his work a success.
Chiossone is moving into the world of documentary films, currently working on two projects. He’s drawn to this work as it allows him to capture the emotional side of larger issues. While larger media outlets tend to tell the story from a larger perspective, Chiossone feels compelled to tell the individual stories, allowing viewers to put themselves in the shoes of those on the other side of the camera.
“I just wish more people would know the real story behind the people,” he said.
Part 2 of this special Mint Press series