Jimmy Journalists

My Guardian column this week argues that what Jimmy Justice does, videotaping errant traffic cops, is vigilante journalism, but journalism nonetheless. (nonregistration version here) Snippet:

So here’s the question: is what Jimmy Justice does journalism? Consider: he is performing the watchdog function of journalism, holding government and its agents to account. He is recording facts; his video camera – oscillating between the no-parking signs and the cops’ licence plates and badges – does not lie. He is asking tough questions. Then he shares what he learns. . . .

But Jimmy’s not slick, he’s sloppily dressed, he has a grating accent and manner, and his camera wobbles. In short, he’s unprofessional.

Aren’t journalists supposed to be professional? Not necessarily. Not anymore. That is precisely what the professional class – in many trades – fears from the internet: it enables the amateurs. And that’s not always pretty. Institutional journalism considers its ability to package – to make things look neat and complete – a key value. But that expectation was really just a necessity of the tools of production: you have one chance to print this story, so make it good. In truth, a news story is a process to which many can now contribute. Life is messy. So is reporting on it. . . .

But I still say that if we care about a watched government and an informed society, then the response to Jimmy shouldn’t be to scold him but perhaps to teach him. Indeed, a commenter on my blog suggested a gadget for Jimmy that would help him hold his camera steadier. Perhaps journalistic organisations should arm a thousand Jimmys with cameras and microphones. Perhaps they should assign the public to report alongside the professionals, to gather more news than could ever be gathered before. Maybe, just maybe, this is an element of a new means – and one new business model – of news: armies of Jimmy Journalists.

MORE: Or they could be Johan Journalists. Martin Stabe says that the German tabloid Bild has used more than 400,000 photos sent readers via their mobile phones and that politicians aren’t happy about it. That must mean they’re doing something right. (Full story auf Deutsch here.) Here’s a key to it: The paper pays €500 if the picture gets in the national edition, €100 in a regional edition. Still cheaper than having 2,500 photographers on staff all over the country.