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Knight Center


20 years after Rodney King's beating was caught on tape, new technologies allow anyone to be a citizen journalist

It has been 20 years since George Holliday, arguably one of the first citizen journalists, grabbed his Sony Handycam and began videotaping the now infamous beating by police of Rodney King. A year later, four police officers accused in the beating were acquitted, prompting massive riots throughout Los Angeles, and sparking a wave of citizen journalism that has only gained momentum with the advent of new technologies.

As Tony Hicks phrased it in the Contra Costa Times, "Before the Rodney King video, journalism was still in the hands of trained journalists...Now anyone, in the right place at the right time, can capture something that makes a difference."

Steve Myers for Poynter looks at the changes in citizen journalism between then and now, noting that today, the tools are cheaper, easier to use, and more ubiquitous. Rather than using a bulky camera, in 2011 Holliday most likely would have used his cell phone to record what happened, and then he would have uploaded the video to YouTube. Although Myers doesn't mention Facebook or Twitter, it's also likely Holliday would have turned to social media to spread the news.

Myers also pointed out that the laws for citizen journalists have become somewhat stickier since Holliday recorded the video.

"There’s another key difference in how Holliday’s citizen journalism was handled 20 years ago and how it could be handled now," Myers wrote. "In several states, videotaping police officers is considered a form of wiretapping. Today, you could be charged with a crime for doing what Holliday did. Imagine that trial."

In reflecting on Holliday's video, David Silverberg writes for the Digital Journal about how citizen journalism has adapted to the digital age, highlighting the multiple distribution channels and even the ability to bypass the media altogether via YouTube or citizen journalism sites like LiveLeak. Silverberg also points to the ability of citizen journalist reports, like those from Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, to put a human face on issues and bring far away issues closer to home.

"Most importantly, citizen media is beginning to gain respect," Silverberg wrote. "It’s not just a hobbyist fancy anymore. Citizen journalism has broken important stories and provided context to stories often reported on from a distance...Tonight, let’s remember how Holliday disrupted the media landscape and let’s clink glasses to another 20 years of powerful citizen journalism."

Other Related Headlines:
» KTLA (The Rodney King beating, 20 years later)
» Los Angeles Times (Twenty years after the beating of Rodney King, the LAPD is a changed operation)


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