We are not all Paparazzi

So everyone has seen the Etheridge attack already, and of course the right hailing it as a great piece of investigative journalism, while the left is defending him saying such things as it was a GOP operation from the get go.   Personally, I don’t care about his reaction.  The guy reacted stupidly in a day and age he should have known it would be seen by half the country in a matter of hours.  But I am pissed off

What I do care about are those two ‘students’.  Whether or not they were actually students or GOP operatives is really not relevant, but they have made my job a whole lot harder.  Right now there is a side debate going on about is street journalism really journalism.  Many are calling us political paparazzi and painting all people who take to the streets with a camcorder, no affiliations with a major news organization (I do consider large websites like TPM a major news organization…) and try to find a story with the same brush.  These guerrilla journalists could be political operatives doing opposition research, activists trying to promote a cause, wannabe journalists playing reporter (me) , or just some guy/gal who happens to have a camcorder handy at the right place and time with an internet connection back home but we all have the same goal.  What differentiates the good from the bad is how we go about achieving it.

Now I am pretty new to this blogging thing, so please feel free to add a category to the comments, but as far as I can tell, there are four ways we can go about finding something to film, two good, two bad.

  1. Film public events passively.  A famous example of someone doing this who became the news was a democratic campaign aide who was filming a campaign event of Republican Senator George Allen.  This became a national story when Sen Allen singled him out at the event calling him Makaka.
  2. The Tim Russet wannabe’s.  These are people who wait around, and try and conduct civil interviews on the fly.  This is the kind of interviewing that I like to do.  It is often these moments that you can get the most candid and honest moments out of public officials.  However, before I start filming, I introduce myself, say I have a small blog (I had a smaller one before I started here), and if they say yes, then I turn on the camera.  I ask if I can schedule an interview at another time, and if they say no again, I thank them and walk away.
  3. The stalkers.  These are people that will follow people around, hounding them with questions often without identifying themselves, will not stop filming if asked to, and will not leave if asked to.  The cameramen hounding Rep. Etheridge fall into this category.  Sadly, this is an interview style learned from the actual news.  While major news organizations that do this are skirting an ethical boundary to do this, this is a technique that is typically a last resort when a person will not give a formal interview.  As small news providers, we must be willing to accept that we may not be big enough to get a formal interview, and if so move on.  The amount of different bloggers out there means that we could make life a living hell for public officials if we resorted to this
  4. The Conman (AKA Jackass).  James O’Keefe is a perfect example of this.  While this is more of a higher end political sting operation, I have no problem with the idea in theory.  However, when this is done in a dishonest way (heavy editing of video, targeting low level employees, etc (what O’Keefe did)), this crosses the line into jackassery and dishonesty (the latter is far worse).

Unfortunately all forms of guerrilla journalism are being put on the same level.  I have read many right wing say that the left shouldn’t be crying foul over this, after all we certainly did not over the Makaka incident.  However, as I outlined here, those are two completely different scenarios.  Sure Etheridge was an idiot for reacting like he did, but those guys were trying to force a story, and he played right into their hands.  I hope that the media will recognize the difference in the future, and give public figures a little more sympathy when dealing with the two latter kinds, and give us a little more respect when the fall into the first two.

One Response to “We are not all Paparazzi”

  1. Neil Flagg says:

    Etheridge could have kept on walking, and these students/stalkers/guerrillas/whatever-you-want-to-call-them would still be nobodies today. The issue here is not the guys with the camera, but the guy who attacked them. It wasn’t just a stupid reaction – it was violent assault. Unless you want to live with violent assault as a tolerated reaction to independent journalists of any kind, you should get off the fence and support them (and O’Keefe, for that matter) 100%.

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