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On cameraphone journalism, or why we <3 the Droid

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for katie.jpgIt was a Tuesday in early May. I, along with several other reporters from competing news outlets, were lead into a meeting room in the Kane County State's Attorney's Office.

Once seated, we each were handed a single sheet of white typing paper with the following announcement printed on it: Kane County Coroner Charles West had been indicted on felony charges.

Every reporter's eyes immediately went down to scan the press release. After a quick skim, I whipped out my phone, opened the camera application and took a photograph of the press release. I then e-mailed the image to my editors and a fellow reporter who wrote up the news and posted it to The Courier-News website and its affiliates a full 45 minutes before any other news outlet uttered a word about the indictment.

It took me about two minutes in total to take the photograph, log in to my e-mail, attach the image and send the message with photo attached to my newsroom. While my phone did the work transmitting the news, I was free to ask questions and take part in the remainder of the press conference.

As a reporter, my cell phone is as indispensable to me as my notebook and pen. Using my phone, I call and text sources and send e-mails while I'm away from my desk. I even check Facebook and Twitter updates for news tips and scoops. With regards to my work however, the most useful part of my phone is quickly becoming the built-in camera.

More about how Katie uses her cameraphone, what others think of 'cameraphone journalism,' tips on how to take better phone photos, all after the jump!

When I see a flyer for a community event posted on a bulletin board, I take a picture of the paper to capture all of the details. I also use the cameraphone to take reference photos while I'm on location for news stories. If I want to remember what a place looked like, I'll snap a few pics and refer back to them, picking out details later as I write. Sseveral photos taken by my cameraphone have appeared on Between the Bylines over the last few months, including "My rude tomato" and "Behind the blotter".)

In addition, some citizen journalists are so kind as to tweet, post and e-mail us their cameraphone photos when they see news happen. (Thanks! And keep it up!)

So not surprisingly, when I saw this link -- Top 5 ways for improving your cameraphone pics -- last Tuesday I clicked it right away.

That link then led me to another about cameraphones and journalism. Following that to, I found a post by blogger Maria Khan about "The Era of Camera-Phone Photojournalism."

In that February post, Khan shares parts of an online conversation about cameraphones and journalism. She spoke with Bill Adee, the Chicago Tribune's self-described VP for digital stuff; Karl Grobl, a humanitarian photojournalist who has traveled all over the world; and Ralph Talmont, a photographer and publishing consultant.

In a nutshell, those experts believe the advent of cameraphone saturation is a positive thing. It allows the average citizen (and simple reporters like myself) to report the realities of what they see around them. Used correctly, cameraphones can help transmit news as it happens, and images from cameraphones can add to the collective knowledge of, for example, a newspaper's readership.

There are downsides however. A cameraphone easily can be used to unethically invade privacy. And, as most phones equipped with cameras also are capable of accessing the Internet, pictures can be posted to the World Wide Web without a second thought to whether a given photo is appropriate, sensitive to its subjects or even an accurate portrayal of a situation.

There is much more that can be said about the benefits and the negatives of cameraphones in society as well as the newsrooms but for now I'll just highlight one more: Having a cameraphone sometimes makes me feel really pressured!

When I am covering breaking news, such as a car accident, a house on fire or a school board venue packed beyond capacity, I feel like it is not enough anymore to call my editor with an update, start taking notes, try to find an authority in charge and ask intelligent questions. No, equipped with my cameraphone, I feel pressure to use it. I feel pressure to visually document the situation at the same time I am going about my normal reporting business.

This situation is not only stressful, it can mean something's got to give. It is hard, if not impossible, to take worthwhile cameraphone pictures and conduct meaningful interviews with sources at the same time.

All that said... Are any of you journalists, either professional or citizen? How do you use your cameraphone, and what you think about them?

-- Katie Anderson, Staff Writer

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This page contains a single entry by Emily McFarlan published on October 12, 2010 8:00 AM.

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