Vigilante journalism

I love Jimmy Justice, the guy who wanders the streets of New York videotaping traffic cops who are violating the traffic laws they are supposed to enforce and confronting them with their sins. This is the power of the people, armed with their own cameras and the internet, acting as watchdogs on government. Isn’t that journalism?

On the Today Show this morning, David Gregory got on a high horse interviewing Jimmy, asking whether he wasn’t just a bit obnoxious. (I dare you to try to find the story on the show’s site; I can’t.) *

Well, what’s any less obnoxious about a reporter asking the same question? That’s exactly why subjects so often think reporters are rude: they’re being asked questions they don’t want to answer. But here’s Gregory calling a citizen with a camera obnoxious for doing what reporters do. Maybe that’s because Jimmy has an accent and an attitude. Gregory clearly thinks that asking the question in a tie with a sterile TV voice is less obnoxious: more professional. Style is substance on TV. And I can hear someone now saying that Jimmy has an ax to grind, a bias, an agenda. Well, yes, but so does a reporter when he decides to follow that cop and confront her about her actions; that agenda is precisely the motivation for the question. It’s all journalism.

If they really care about watchdogging government and its abuses of power, the proper response from the Today show and any journalistic organization should be to encourage more people to do what Jimmy is doing. What’s wrong with more watchdogs on the street? Indeed, Today should hand out some video cameras or at least share a few lessons with Jimmy about how to shoot video without giving us motion sickness. And it would be generous of them to talk about Jimmy’s rights to shoot public officials’ actions in public, since those officials try to threaten and intimidate Jimmy.

Hey, Mr. Gregory: You and Jimmy are on the same side. You’re doing journalism. It may not sound as slick, but the end result is the same.

* LATER: Thanks to Dan in the comments for finding the Today segment. David Gregory’s fuller quote: “It’s a little obnoxious. Do you not worry about coming off as an obnoxious, aggressive guy here?”

Do reporters? Should they?

Jimmy says he was frustrated getting anyone to pay attention to his complaints about the traffic officers: “I had to bring it to YouTube. I had to show it to the people.”

  • Andy Freeman

    > Hey, Mr. Gregory: You and Jimmy are on the same side.

    No they’re not. Gregory is wants to maintain the priesthood, to keep out folks like Jimmy.

  • Dan
  • chico haas

    “This is the power of the people, armed with their own cameras and the internet, acting as watchdogs on government. Isn’t that journalism?”

    Since you asked, no, it’s not journalism. It’s people with cameras putting whatever they shoot on the web. Do you consider papparazzi journalists? Watchdogging the government and its abuses of power is a lofty thought compared to shooting a meter maid parking by a fire hydrant. Obviously, there will be Rodney King moments with a citizenry armed with phonecams. But that’s a mighty big shooting ratio. Simply because technology has democratized the dissemination of someone’s words and pictures to the world does not mean one is a suddenly a journalist. Maybe in your mind, not mine.

  • ZF

    I saw a program on Italian TV recently where some amateurs did exactly this, videoing cops responsible for enforcing the helmet law arriving on scooters routinely (as in every day) wearing no helmet. They also confronted the cops, asking them about why they weren’t complying with the law.

    They managed, though, to both make their point and be highly entertaining without being at all obnoxious. This guy could easily have done likewise.

  • Don

    Papparazzi reports on celebrities who do not have statutory power over me personally.

    Jimmy Justice reports on agents of the state who do have statutory power over me personally.

  • Tim

    I’m supportive of Jimmy in his quest to watch the Watchmen, but after viewing a few of his segments, I think he’s got more than an “accent and an attitude” going on. He appears to have rage issues.

    And when he resorts to saying to one woman “f**k you, c**t” in one segment — and then doesn’t even have the self-protection gene to edit it out — I know I’m not in the presence of a guy I want to stand next to in the name of “justice.”

    He’s welcome to talk that way, of course. And I’m welcome to move on….

  • ged

    hmmm…I wonder how many meter maids think of themselves as “agents of the state”. guess it would look better on the resume than “parking ticker writer”.

    so, what about that guy who invaded the cockpit with a video camera and berated the pilots when his flight was being delayed on teh ground…? journalist? terrorist? or just jacka$$?

  • And if anyone reading this is also interested in limiting motion sickness in video, I highly recommend the $14 poor man’s steadycam, that you can build yourself using instructions at

    I made my own a little bit smaller with shorter pipes, but with 5 pounds on the base it still works great.

  • Don

    Most (all?) of Jimmy’s videos clearly show armed agents of the state empowered with statutory authority to use lethal force against me at their discretion.

  • Don

    Nevermind. A closer inspection reveals that most of Jimmy’s subjects are indeed metermaids. (The metermaids in my town drive little cushman carts not fancy cars.) Much ado about nothing. My apologies to the group.

  • Ambrose

    Interesting that you consult media people in your profession but seem to lack the most basic knowledge of reporting. I am not a big fan of mainstream media myself, but I think you are off base on this one.

    While I agree with you that Jimmy Justice is great and is doing us a tremendous service, I saw the interview and thought David Gregory asked perfectly appropriate questions. And I would add that Jimmy Justice responded superbly. For those who might find Justice obnoxious, I think he did a pretty good job of articulating himself. Had Gregory not asked him to address these so-called “rude” questions, we as viewers would have been left wondering why the guy is so damn obnoxious. He clearly has an axe to grind, and is hungry for his 15 minutes which he hopes to parlay into an “anti-cops” style reality series (so much for noncommercial citizen journalism). Had Gregory not asked tough questions and instead made it into a back-slapping, feel-good, puff piece, you’d be criticizing him for taking sides and being too soft.

  • Remember folks we’re dealing with a downtown NYC attitude. Sure Jimmy is a big pain in the butt. I’d say its bad journalism but it still journalism in the Web 2.0 sense. Yes the medium of publication might only be youtube but he’s still reporting. You might not agree with the fact that its not pure Wall Street Journal reporting but you’re going to have to start dealing with the facts.

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  • Amen!

    Also: Jimmy Justice rocks.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Welcome to the future. The playing field is being leveled. “Jimmy Justice” (Anonymous) is gaining credibility, and Jeff Jarvis (CUNY Professor) is losing credibility. EQUALITY TO ALL!

  • Paw

    you’re kidding, right? This guy isn’t a journalist – he’s an asshole with a camera attempting to make a big deal out of nothing. Hassling meter maids is “justice”?

    As far as watchdogs go, I’d love to read how you’d react if Mr “Justice” saw YOU parked illegally (which is almost impossible not to do in most major cities) and called the cops on YOU…

    If Mr. “Justice” wants to make a difference, let him stand in front of any inner city school playground and stick his camera in some crack dealer’s face. Maybe not as much fun as bothering meter maids, but infinitely less self serving.

  • Andy Freeman

    > If Mr. “Justice” wants to make a difference, let him stand in front of any inner city school playground and stick his camera in some crack dealer’s face.

    In short, Justice is doing wrong because he’s unwilling to do something that Paw is unwilling to do.

  • Paw

    No, Andy, Mr. Justice isn’t doing wrong or right – he’s just hassling meter maids, the point being that hassling meter maids is not, in and of itself, journalism – it’s just some guy looking for his 15 minutes any way he can. As an individual, i’m unwilling to hassle meter maids or crack dealers because I’m not pretending to be a journalist.

    Sticking a camera in some schmucky civil servant’s face and yelling at him/her for 5 minutes for making a U turn doesn’t qualify as investigative reporting. The example I gave does, whether I’d be willing to do it or not.

  • In the Philippines, our journalists are murdered every now and then. They have become endangered species. How can democracy thrive without journalists? We need help from outside forces. Many journalists in the Philippines have shifted jobs.

  • I completely understand Jimmy’s frustration. And if you can look beyond the yelling, the profanity and abusive language, I think he has a solid point re: preditory ticketing practices and abuse of power by the NYPD.

    But Jeff, I think you missed the boat here regarding David Gregory’s question. It’s fair to ask Jimmy if he comes off as obnoxious. In fact, if David HADN’T asked that question he’d be open to criticism for NOT bringing up the subject.

    For the record, I had an interview / debate with Jimmy Justice on G4’s Attack of the Show last night. Jimmy himself didn’t see anything wrong with Gregory’s question.

    Just because NBC is part of the establishment doesn’t necessarily mean they are always in the wrong….

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