Seeing Things for Yourself
The value of being an eyewitness to events is unarguable. Perhaps the most important example in Australian journalism is Wilfred Burchett’s account of the destruction caused by the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Smartphones enable anyone anywhere to be an eyewitness, as was vividly demonstrated during the so-called Arab Spring, where ordinary citizens in the Middle East were able to distribute images and video of events as they happened. The same technology can be easily used to distribute hoax material, which underscores the need for the kind of robust verification methods that professional journalism practises, or it can be used for propaganda as the terrorist organisation ISIS has demonstrated with its gruesome videos of beheadings and adept use of social media for recruiting. If first-hand observation is one of the great joys of journalism, it is also easy to lose oneself and hard to distil everything one soak up into an evocative and accurate description.