Part One The photograph as document

Project one: Eyewitness


  • Find some examples of news stories where ‘citizen journalism’ has exposed or highlighted abuses of power.
  • How do these pictures affect the story, if at all? Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?
  • Write a list of the arguments for and against. For example, you might argue that these pictures do have a degree of objectivity because the photographer (presumably) didn’t have time to ‘pose’ the subjects, or perhaps even to think about which viewpoint to adopt. On the other hand, the images we see in newspapers may be selected from a series of images and how can we know the factors that determined the choice of final image?
  • Think about objectivity in documentary photography and make some notes in your learning log before reading further.


I found it difficult to find examples where I could be certain that it was citizen journalism and even more where these related to abuses of power. However in the process I discovered this story and have reflected on how the picture affects the story: Voices of the damned: These horrifying stories from concentration camp victims reveal, with chilling clarity, why this week North Korea was likened to Nazi Germany (Walters 2016). The report centres on the political prison camps of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea suggesting that the inmates are being gradually eliminated by deliberate methods.

mail-korea  Anon

mail-korea-2 Anon

The first picture makes it easy to visualise conditions in the camp and the second presents an army guard looking threatening and harsh. They support and enhance the narrative in the news story and must have been chosen for that. Certainly neither could be classed as objective. The picture of the camp would need authenticating, as it could be staged or from a different location. The picture of the guard carries the same issues but even if authentic, it is essentially only a snap shot of a face caught on camera and her demeanor could be explained by her surprise at being photographed.

New stories can obviously benefit from citizen journalism and photographic testimony from ordinary citizen but authenification is vital, as is responsible balanced use. Apparently the BBC can receive up to 10,000 pieces of user-generated content on a single day. Perhaps the way forward is to responsibly mix professional and citizens photos to give a rounded picture.

A Newstatesman article (Baker 2015) raises some interesting points. It outlines how verification is now relatively simple but that events can actually be staged with media coverage in mind. The Sydney siege and the Lee Rigby Murder in Woolwich are given as examples where in these cases citizen video footage was not shoot by chance but taken to control the stories.

I found it easier to access citizen video news footage, which raises similar issues as citizen photography. One such example is the “Syria hero boy” story (The Telegraph  2014) which was  a hoax story of a boy saving a girl from gunfire. It originally appeared as an original news piece, with unverified content and was later debunked (Crilly , 2014)

mail-syria-boy-hero Anon

For and against of citizen journalism:


  • Enhances news stories
  • Widens the possibility for capturing an event
  • Many photos of the same event provide possible authentication and multiple viewpoints


  • Only as balanced as the editing allows
  • Must be verified absolutely
  • Even if authentic the event could have been staged to capture the photographic evidence.
  • The image could be tampered with post production
  • Can never be objective as influenced by the context and photographer, however also true of journalistic photographs.


Baker, V (2015) How far can you trust citizen journalism on the internet? The Newstatesman. 25.3.15.Available from: (Accessed 3.10.15)

Crilly, R (2014) Syria ‘hero boy’ video is too good to be true. The Telegraph 14.11.14Crilley 2014). Available from: (Accessed 5.10.16)

Malm, S (2014)Heroic young boy runs through sniper fire in Syria, pretends to get shot, then rescues terrrified girl as bullets hit the floor around them. The Daily Mail online, 11.11.14. Available from: (Accessed 5.10.16)

Walters, G (2016). Voices of the damned: These horrifying stories from concentration camp victims reveal, with chilling clarity, why this week North Korea was likened to Nazi Germany. The Mail online, 2.10.16. Available from: (Accessed 3.10.15)

The Telegraph (2014) Watch: Syrian ‘hero boy’ appears to brave sniper fire to rescue terrified girl in dramatic video. The Telelgraph.  Available from: (Accessed 5.10.16)