Digital cameras put the news in your hands

Journalists were once easy to pick out in a crowd. They were the ones with a ‘press’ card sticking out of a felt fedora hat, furiously scribbling shorthand into their notepads.

Often they were flanked by a photographer, struggling under the weight of an old school camera with a flash large enough to temporarily blind everyone in the room.

Those days are long gone, of course. You might catch a journalist writing in a notepad, but fedora hats are definitely not in vogue.

Many of them now take their own photographs. Modern digital cameras provide perfect pictures at the click of a button and can fit in your pocket. Which begs the question – why can’t anyone do it? Well, they can.

Citizen journalism is an increasing trend in the media. If you see something newsworthy unfolding before your eyes, your first instinct might well be to reach for your mobile phone and take a picture using its five megapixel camera.

Journalists can’t always be on the scene first and with the age of 24-hour news, we’re seeing the BBC, Sky and ITV turn to their viewers to tell the story. After all, if you’ve built the best snowman on your street then it’s only natural to want to show it off…

Weather forecasts are now preceded by a snapshot of a beautiful sunset taken by Kate from the Wirral, while George from Leamington Spa has been caught in the rain and wants everyone to see what it’s done to his hair.

Perhaps the moment when citizen journalism truly arrived was in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings. Seeing a line of passengers trudging through a tunnel to safety offered a perspective that journalists and photographers simply couldn’t get.

Student protests over rising tuition fees have been captured by amateur photographers

Technology has moved on at such a rate in recent years that the difference between a professionally taken photograph and an amateur snap is no longer stark. It’s not uncommon to find 14.2 megapixel digital SLR cameras, enough to satisfy even the fussiest editor.

It’s much quicker, too. A photograph on a mobile phone can be emailed or sent by picture message, ready to be used on the news instantly. How long is it before high quality streaming video can be sent from mobile phones to provide live footage for television news?

Citizen journalism doesn’t come without its pitfalls though. Many photographers have found they are no longer required by their newspaper, with journalists told to take their own photographs.

Celebrities in particular must feel as if they are constantly in the spotlight. They know if they misbehave in public then it will almost certainly end up in the tabloids – and there’s no denying it because the camera never lies!

Fraudulent photos can also leave egg on the faces of news editors. A couple of hours work with photo editing software can make it look like aliens are hovering over Buckingham Palace – just make sure you don’t fall for it.

But when used the right way, citizen journalism is a great addition to news coverage. We crave information and want to know about things as soon as they happen, but journalists can’t always be there first.

The internet has helped us realise how important interaction is, so us viewers shouldn’t feel lectured by their television and newspapers, we should be part of it.

Have you ever seen something that you wanted to share with the whole world? With the help of your digital camera, maybe next time you will make the front page.

_Would you like to have a go at being a citizen journalist? If you find the £10k Golden Ticket then you will be able to buy all the equipment you’ll need!_