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.: April 2006 --> How Flickr single-handedly invented collaborative photojournalism

How Flickr single-handedly invented collaborative photojournalism

» What is collaborative journalism? I would define it as news reporting, enabled by the Internet, done by a dispersed, unorganized group of people — or a group that spontaneously (and temporarily) organizes around their interest in a particular event. It's a compelling idea, but unfortunately — and in spite of many millions of blogs and wikis and online forums — actual examples are few and far between.

I had believed that was because most people are just not that interested in reporting the news, but I was wrong. Most of us can't wait to "break" a story to our friends, whether we've just witnessed a car accident, a celebrity sighting, or discovered that friends who were dating have broken up.

I'm beginning to suspect that what citizen reporters lack is the proper tool. Because the Flickr slideshow of photos of the French employment riots [Flash required] amply demonstrates that, on Flickr at least, collaborative photojournalism is thriving. That success is at least as much a product of Flickr itself as it is a product of the contributing photographers.

For those who don't know, Flickr allows members to upload photos to a public viewing area, and then "tag" them to denote their subject matter. Flickr then rates each photo according to "interestingness", a quality that is based on the ways in which other users interact with that photo. No one (outside of the Flickr team) knows exactly what that algorithm is based on, but I would guess that it measures things like the number of times each photo is viewed, the number of times another member calls it a favorite, the number of times it's emailed to others — those sorts of things.

The above slideshow consists of all public photos with a certain tag. So the first thing Flickr is doing is aggregating them. Then they are arranged by "interestingness" which means that the best photos (as judged by the community) come first. It also means that as new photos are added to the stream, it will continue to change, and more interesting photos will percolate to the top. If you haven't looked at a Flickr stream before, you'll be astonished by the high quality of these photographs.

Now, with or without Flickr, there would be people out on the streets watching the riots. But I would judge that Flickr members are now more inclined to document what they see, knowing that they can share it with others when they get home. I don't know what tools could make it this easy for other kinds of journalists to assemble a compelling story in pieces, but clearly Flickr has made something possible for photographers that was not possible before. [Updated to more clearly distinguish between written journalism and photojournalism.] (via rw)

Update: More on Flickr-powered collaborative journalism[ 04.11.06 ]


Flickr reminds me of the net ten years ago. Most everyone there is extremely friendly.

I've met a lot of interesting people there.

I won't call that "riots" but demonstrations. There were an average 2 millions demonstrators each demontration day, and among them hardly a hundred rioters and looters.

I am on flickr , but for some reason rarely use the slide show feature, I tend to browse the work of people I know, follow links from there etc, in classic web style. However the slide show you linked to is indeed stunning. How many of those photographers are photojournalists, I don't know, but the quality of work available on flickr is very high from 'amateur' and 'professional' alike. I shall certainly be exploring more with the slideshows.

After looking over Flickr slides I wonder if they are really related to the CPE, they depict scenes more reminiscent of the violence that hit the Paris suburbs in November - with few exceptions.

The Flickr slide show mostly pictures depict youth gangs from the suburbs fighting the police and burning cars, rather than university students protesting the CPE, though images are tagged as such.

So caution and good judgment must prevail, not only toward the traditional media, but with regard to collaborative citizen journalism as well, where there is no verification, no checking of sources on such tools as Flickr.

In this case, how accurately these photos have been tagged is a valid question.

Check out Libération's slideshow contributed by their readers for another perspective on the CPE demonstrations, or the Student's Union Site itself (below) - both paint a very different story than on Flickr.

I think I see what you are getting at, but I don't think it's going to come to that yet. Maybe if flickr combined with a news site like digg or slashdot we might get to that point.

Collaborative photojournalism has been around far longer than Flickr. Even collaborative citizen photojournalism (which is what you're talking about-- nearly all pro photojournalism projects are to one degree or another collaborative) is not new.

There's a series of wonderful books called "24 Hours in...." such as "24 Hours in Japan." In these books, freelance photographers spread out all over the country they were covering and took photos all within 24 hours. They sent the photos to the central editing office, where they were turned into books. For the Cyberspace edition, the project was also broadcast live as photos came in from around the world.

This was all before Flickr, even before blogs. The only difference is that there's a faster delivery of media and no editorial review to determine if a photo is good, bad, deceptive, etc.

Great explanation of collaborative journalism Rebecca. I tend to agree with you that the general lack of collaborative journalism projects has more to do with the lack of proper tools than with the lack of public interest.

I am currently developing a website for the purpose of facilitating collaborative journalism in the context of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. The site will be lauched in July or August of this year. I'd love to get your input on the site when it launches and I'll be contacting you at that point.

Keep up the great work!



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