Work and Life in the Mobile Society/Security/Journalism

How can mobile devices enable citizen journalism?

Mobile devices are part of the emergent media technologies that challenged the mass media principles and changed the face of professional journalism. Such mobile devices as cell phones were the most popular media in 2007, according to McGill Professor of Communication Studies J. Sterne.[1] However, the widespread of cell phones and their popular use in journalism raises two important issues: ethical and political. While the mobile devices open the whole new world of possibilities for the majority of people, the users of the mobile devices often do not know what responsibilities they have if any when contributing to citizen journalism.

Ethical Issues


One of the challenges “cell phone journalists” face is the fact that there is no common ethics for everyone to follow. Consider two examples from A student used a cell phone to capture his teacher beating another student in front of his classmates in Russia.[2] Or, a rape video of eleven-year-old girl has been circulated around her neighbourhood in Detroit until her parents heard about it and reported it to the police.[3] In the first case, a cell phone video was shown on TV to hold the teacher accountable for her actions. In the second case, the video has been used as degrading pornography and has been deleted by one of the rapists before the police could see it. When it comes to record and see a cell phone video of a crime, citizens have to make a moral choice: to record or not to record, to watch or not to watch. Because the moral standards vary in different individuals and different societies, there is no simple way of regulating the use of mobile devices in citizen journalism.

Political Issues


Moreover, if one restricts the ways in which people can use their cell phones, it will be no longer possible for the citizen activists to have any significant impact on the politics. The current advantage of the mobile devices is that they allow questioning the one-way, producer-to-consumer, communication of the mass media. Because cell phones are multifunctional and relatively cheap, people can pass the news, be it in a video or a sound format, across their networks of friends and the whole community in a twinkle of an eye. In his article “Will the Revolution be Cybercast?”, T. V. Reed describes how the human rights activists from all over the world used cell phones not only to record the behavior by the police during the Battle of Seattle, but also to coordinate the blockades. However, by the end of the article, the author questions the minorities’ lack of access to the same technologies as well as the reasons behind the non-local activists’ amateur journalism.[4] In fact, if cell phones were as powerful as to hold the police and the governments accountable, we would already have a law restricting the use of these mobile devices.

Future Implications


As the tendency for the cell phones is to become fancier and fancier, the politics of the states and the phone companies are clearly in distracting citizens from the actual mobilization and grassroots activism. The smart phones with huge extra fees for special features like the GPS are a good example of how the rich and powerful privilege the access to “better citizen journalism devices” to white middle-class men with disposable income. Finally, aren’t we just being distracted by these “toys" from the real politics and the moral choices we have to make as a society?[5]


  1. Professor Jonathan Sterne. Lecture Sept. 5, 2007. McGill University.
  2. The news from March 3, 2007.
  3. The news from February 16, 2007,
  4. T. V. Reed. “Will the Revolution be Cybercast? New Media, the Battle of Seattle and Global Justice”. Ch.9, The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. University of Minnesota Press: Mineapolis MN, 2005. Pp. 240-285
  5. Jodi Dean, “Communicative capitalism: the ideological matrix,” and “Neo-democracy” in Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy, 1-14; 151-175.