It’s amazing how our collective memory of many events has been shaped by images taken by ordinary people – like mobile phone footage of political protests in oppressive regimes or tragic pictures of national disasters.
The exponential rise of social media has created a new landscape of interaction and collaboration where the boundaries between professional practice, citizen journalism, the subject and the audience are blurring.
So with the erasing of boundaries comes a new geographically spread industry which can’t always find places to communicate. And for those citizen photographers outside the profession who contribute to the news, it can be hard to find space to contribute. So OPEN-i, one of the JISC projects run by the University of the Arts, London, is creating a ‘virtual community’ of photojournalists. This community space links photographers, agencies, publications and educational institutions in a virtual network. Its aim is to provide somewhere members can discuss the issues facing the industry as well as debating and discussing the future of news in the crazy world of web 2.0. To take an example, a recent discussion focused on how the earthquake in Haiti was reported and the ethics surrounding this.
With feedback from some of its 850+ members like – “[it’s] changing the face of photojournalism and photojournalism education” (Professor of Photojournalism at a US University), and “it has introduced me to new people with different perspectives…to expand my thinking. Problems, solutions, people, ideas and processes are all opened up for wide discussion – OPEN-i is a terrific resource” (Director of a commercial photo agency) – it’s clear this initiative is having a positive impact on a wide range of people from all walks of life.
Of course, photojournalism is just one example of a profession whose work is inside and outside academia, professional and amateur, UK and international. As the cult of the knowledgeable amateur grows, we need to find new ways to bring expertise together, and digital technology can help us do that in a way that physical spaces can’t. Pictures are no less remarkable for being caught by ordinary people, so our educational and professional resources on photography and other subjects need to be open to hobbyists and interested parties as well as experts. Only then will we be truly embracing a world of lifelong learning.