In 2011, cameraphones entered the mainstream of photojournalism due to a combination of the Arab uprisings, the Occupy protests and improved technology.
The Guardian, wire agencies and major broadcasters used many more cameraphone and video images. The New York Times said its use has increased a hundredfold.
“That’s largely because of the Arab spring”, said Michele McNally, assistant managing editor for photography at the New York Times. “Most of the reporters are carrying smartphones because of the image quality of the cameras. They like the style of cellphone filtered imagery and they’re less intrusive [to use] in conflict situations.”
She said citizen media was an “instant document” of an event rather than a replacement for skilled photojournalism. She said: “Most amateur footage does lack the real smart interpretation of what it’s like to be there.”
Al-Jazeera’s citizen media service Sharek received about 1,000 cameraphone videos during the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak.
Riyaad Minty, its head of social media, said: “Post Egypt, in places like Libya, Yemen and Syria, citizens posting online have been the primary lens through which people have been able to see what is happening on the ground.
Turi Munthe, founder of citizen journalism service Demotix, said there has been a cultural shift in the mainstream media.
“The main broadcasters are going out of their way to use cameraphones because the images look more authentic. In almost every image of Tahrir Square, there were people waving cameraphones.
“We had close to 1,000 contributors shipping us images from north Africa. In Egypt, there was a feeling the war was being waged on two fronts — the war against Mubarak and the campaign to get the uprising all over the media.”
Dr Rasha Abdulla, associate professor and chair of journalism and mass communication at the American University in Cairo, said a synergy had developed between citizen journalists and the mainstream media.
On December 18, when there was a TV blackout of coverage of the occupation of the cabinet building in Cairo, Abdulla said the only footage came from a protester transmitting live online via his mobile phone.
Philip Trippenbach, departing editor-in-chief of the social media network Citizenside, said: “There’s been a behavioural shift with activists realising their images are of interest beyond Facebook or Twitter.”
“Perhaps more important is the video capability of the latest phones. The video of John Galliano [the fashion designer’s racist rant] scoop was our story. The contributor got enough money to buy a new Audi. But for the majority it’s about sharing information like Wikipedia.”