What does Morpheus mean by the item in your pocket has the power to change the world?
Well, I guess the first question for that would be: for the better, or for the worse?
Upon the realisation that the item is your mobile phone, I’ll ask you this.
What can it do?
Well, not only can your phone call, text, play music, film videos, take photos, share those videos and photos with your friends through the internet, share how your feeling, what you’ve done, what you’re doing, eating, seeing, playing, as well as a whole plethora of other activities, it can also use all of these capabilities to change the way journalists report and share news relating to matters from domestic violence, to police abuse.
In the traditional format of journalism, journalists relied on the information provided by police accounts, potential victims and eyewitnesses to report on what had happened and recreate the events. This process has sometimes been seen to lead to confusion through the narratives portrayed, as was the case with Michael Brown’s death where the law enforcements point-of-view was the focal point within reports.
Now, with the smartphone, the media landscape is experiencing a major shift, in specific regards to journalism where the rise of the “citizen journalist” remains constant. This growing trend has seen the delivery of news to be somewhat instinctual with a “real-time” representation, forcing news outlets to avoid a heavy reliance on traditional information sources such as eyewitnesses and police.
Walter Scott was shot and killed by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, after being pulled over for a traffic stop. What took place has seen a number of different depictions, but for the sake of understanding how the ‘Citizen Journalist’ can change the world, we’ll be looking at The Post and Courier’s portrayal.
Now, being a mainstream traditional news outlet, The Post and Courier relied heavily on law enforcement as a credible source – none of this is journalistic malpractice – where they stated that Scott had run from police, after which he gained control over a Taser (which was being used to subdue Scott), attempting to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to using his weapon, shooting Scott, detailing that Scott was shot an unknown amount of times. Upon this initial report, it was unclear if any eyewitnesses were to be found. The Post and Courier then published a follow-up piece, utilising information from a similar police account, which went into more detail relating to the events that unfolded.
Here comes the kicker though.
When smartphone footage from Feidin Santana surfaced, the issue of “when there are no cameras, the advantage goes to the shooter,” – as said by Charles C. W. Cooke in an article in the National Review – becomes irrelevant.
As said by Cooke, “… the playing field is levelled” and the truth surfaced, allowing The Post and Courier to change the narrative, to the truth, where Scott was hit with the Taser, then is shot 7 times by Officer Slager from 10 feet away, ultimately leading to Slager being indicted on charges of murder.
The seemingly ceaseless nature of the tragic reality of police brutality has begun to experience a major tectonic shift, and it’s not because of the justice system, and it’s not because of our trusted news providers, but it’s because of the ‘citizen journalist’, it’s because of the smartphone, offering a true glimpse into what Morpheus meant by the rabbit hole of the “power of the smartphone to change the world”.