My own ethnographic research work at the moment is looking at how audiences read, use and participate in hyperlocal community media. Inspired by Sarah Pink’s Doing Visual Ethnography (2013). I am asking my participants to what extent they already are familiar with making (not just watching) video, and whether they could produce a ‘news report’ about their locality. As with many of the things I ask them, this is tentative, with an expectation they may report they’re not at all used to doing video, or may at least not be comfortable doing it in this context, where I am seeking ways to engage that they’re familiar with. Rather than seeking to provoke reaction or response through intervention, I would prefer to engage via mediums that explore the everyday nature of the media they use, and consider them experts in their own field.
So what does asking them to create such news reports demonstrate for me?
Hopefully, two things. At one level, the tools they might choose to use. Do they seek professional standards and go to a proper digital video camera, and edit it for me? Or do they shoot something shorter on their mobile? Is it common practice for them to film things and share among friends, if not online – because as Facebook or Twitter users we may appreciate the value of video when we share it to others, but how often do we create our own original content? These choice of tools help us understand something about technology, its place in everyday life, and in the contexts of citizen journalism we talk about here at ACM, the means by which we can report at the flick of a switch.
The second demonstration I might hope for is one of attitudes towards ideas of ‘newsworthiness’, and value. Would the participants speak to camera, or stay behind it? How would they frame the shot, to ape mainstream news reports? Speaking straight to camera or over the shoulder? With someone else filming them, or as a one man crew? And what do they choose to film – does an issue have to be highly politicised or specifically ‘visual’ to be worthy of aiming a camera at it? Or is it about capturing a moment in time, the act of ‘being’ in a place where something is occurring, such as police cars gathering somewhere – either in observation, or as self defence, as can be seen in hundreds, maybe thousands of Youtube videos where US police are filmed by citizens? I’d argue the value is being in the right place at the right time, even if that results in a few seconds of shaky, vertically-shot video.
Having started the conversation with my participants it remains to be seen whether such an exploratory method will prove fruitful, given that shooting video may not be second nature to them. That of course, is interesting in itself – that we as consumers will happily watch videos of varying quality online, through Facebook, Youtube, and now Vines of just six seconds, but there is a pivotal point where we become a producer in ourselves. Being in the right place at the right time, with the right technology, and a mindset to not just observe but also record and share, is all it takes.
(Image credit: htomari)