Modern journalism has become a multimedia-driven, fast paced environment open to reporters of all skill level and education. The rise of citizen journalists and social media have positively affected the field.
With that said, critics believe that this fast paced medium has shifted the responsibility of a journalist to bear witness. Roger Cohen of The New York Times said in 2009 in regard to the coverage of the Iran uprising that: “To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.”
Live eyewitness accounts are powerful, but it’s wrong to dismiss the power of social media and live-blogging coverage. Arianna Huffington stated that this type of coverage played a huge role during the Iran uprising and allowed for millions of people around the world to “bear witness”. Though pictures and real-time video, social outlets were constantly updating which allowed people to see what was really happening in Iran.
As powerful and moving as eyewitness accounts are, it is important to acknowledge “the eyewitness fallacy“, a term coined by Malcolm Muggeridge. This is the idea that people see what they want to see, which limits fair and objective reporting.
New multimedia outlets do not diminish the idea of “bearing witness”, they create a larger space for those to report instead of solely relying on mainstream media. In addition, these multimedia outlets make it harder for mainstream media to get information wrong. Think of Bush’s Iraq and Sandy Hook, all instances of mainstream media reporting wrong information. These new multimedia outlets check and balance mainstream media and create honest and objective journalism.