Blacksburg Massacre – the techno-legal time gap and new media

In an interesting article by Joe Garofoli at SFGate we are beginning to see a discussion about the many ethical and lego-technical dilemmas thrown up by the way that NBC chose to use the Cho Seung-Hui suicide video.
The basic question is should the news media use everything it can get – such as the “eyewitness” cameraphone footage and the Cho tape, just because it can? There are also issues of verification, authority and authenticity around this. Not to mention the traditional ethical issues, such as grief intrusion, the coverage of violent crimes and suicide and the rights of victims.
I have written (see link to my books below) about what I call the ethico-legal paradox (that there is a contradiction sometimes between the law and ethics in media decision-making) and the techno-legal time gap (that there is a disconnect between what the technology can be used for and any form of legitimate regulatory regime to govern its use).
We see both of these issues being played out in the raging debate about the use of the Cho video in NBC (and other) newscasts and on the web.
Garofoli wrote that in the Blacksburg situation we see the visible interdependence between old and new media for the first time. Well not quite. I have written and lectured on this over the past year to my colleagues and students. I call this phenomenon “Journalism in the Age of YouTube”.
It first came to my notice in July 2005 during the London bombings. The BBC and other media were running loads of amateur footage shot on cameraphones and many stills of the underground explosions. But the real tragedy of this was the shooting of Brazilian tourist, Jean Charles de Menezes by the police a couple of days later. Eyewitnesses told the BBC that they had seen “wires” poking out of his jacket when police tackled him to the ground and shot him between five and seven times in the head. The news that Mr de Menezes was a “terrorist” led the frontpage news the next day. It took the British police more than 24 hours to correct the wrong information from eyewitnesses. This is the real danger in this unmediated and uncorroborated fast-media world.
The second time I noticed this, and what sparked my interest even more was inNovember 2006 when a student at UC-Berkeley was tazered by over-zealous security guards. With in hours footage shot by eyewitness cameraphone was posted on YouTube and within 48 hours it was a big international story. I saw it for the first time on a commercial network bulletin in Perth, Australia.
What was interesting about this event was that it set up a referential feedback loop between YouTube and the mass media. YouTube hosted the phone footage, then it was picked up by the campus student press, then by local (San Francisco) news organisations, then it made it onto CNN and Fox and went global. But almost immediately, YouTubers were cross-posting the Fox and CNN clips back into their networks. When I last checked on 21 April 2007 there had been over one million hits on one version of the phone video, but there are several others that have similar hit rates.
I agree that there is a growing interconnection between traditional media and the digital natives, such as YouTubers. My interest in pursuing this is to know how far it’s going and where it might lead.
I am currently writing a book about this and would love to hear from EM readers about their own experiences, thoughts and incidents. If you come across more writing on this, pls let me know about it.
Here’s another thoughtful news report that really nails some of the ethical issues. The AP television writer, David Bauder, had this to say, and it’s a comment I agree with:

The pictures alone _ 11 showed a gun pointed at a camera lens _ were repulsive. Many who saw them viewed it as a second attack, an invitation to copycats and a fulfillment of Cho’s demented wish for attention.

There’s also some good coverage over at the UK Press Gazette blog.
Meanwhile, this is what the good burgher’s of Blacksburg have had to put up with. Would you like to have dinner with this sh!t blaring away from the widescreen TV over the bar?

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