When the grandson of Vincent Van Gogh was stabbed to death on the streets of Amsterdam for having made a film about the plight of Moslem women, the first picture taken of his body -- theww picture that appeared in the newspapers -- was not taken by a press photographer. It was taken by a passerby with a cell phone.
Today the majority of telephones are no longer hard-wired. Theyre portable. Wherever you go you see drivers talking on their cell phones and pedestrians talking into their hands, Now, with some phones capable not only of taking pictures but of making short videos, almost everyone can become part of the world news network.
This was particularly evident in the London bombing episode, People trapped in the subway tunnels, in the disabled trains and on the streets where the bus was blown up were taking pictures and sending them to the press. At least a dozen such videos were passed on to the BBC for rebroadcast.
Before any journalist could get from Fleet Street to the tubes, here was a video clip with the sound of someone trapped in the wreckage and screaming for help. Without the cell phones, this kind of immediacy rarely happens.
Of course, for now the quality of the pictures and the clips is not comparable to what can be shot by those cumbersome cameras lugged on the shoulders of TV crews, but in the news business, immediacy is key. Commentary comes afterwards.
Where would we be without those portable devices? With everyone armed with instant communication like this, no cop should dare beat up on any Rodney King. The British police are no doubt scouring the cell phone pictures for any sign of the perpetrators of those terrorist acts.
Thanks to the cell phones, in case of emergency you need hardly look for a pay phone and fumble in your pocket for change. When I was in the grocery store one day a man had an epileptic seizure. Before I could get to the service desk to tell someone to call an ambulance, a women at the end of the aisle was already dialing 911 on her cell phone.
Commit a crime on a crowded street and you may find your picture flashed immediately to the police and the press.
This makes everyone who might witness a newsworthy event an amateur journalist photographer. No need to think about lugging a traditional Speed Graphic with a pocketful of flash bulbs, or even a 35mm SLR camera. In the hopes of getting a good shot. That all-in-one device, your cell phone, is right there.
If that technology had been available we might have had sound videos and still shots of the hijackers aboard the airplanes on 9-11. No need to retrieve film from the wreckage. The images would already be transmitted. Its a chilling thought.
Though London public places are under constant surveillance by thousands of TV cameras, with over 2,500 video clips being examined in the wake of the bombings, it was the people themselves who got us the pictures of the events as they happened. Think of the implications, not only for journalists, but for the police. People are notoriously inaccurate witnesses, but their cell phones may catch the true story as it happens.
To facilitate your getting a scoop with your cell phone, why not pre-program the dailer with the numbers of your local newspaper and TV station? If you have instant messaging your on-the-spot report will be only a few clicks away from the headline news.
Perhaps this newspaper will run a cell phone shot of the week feature, posting the most newsworthy picture. Think of the opportunities: catching criminals in the act, portraits of babies and puppies, sporting events, parades, festivals. No newspaper can employ a staff large enough to be on-the-spot everywhere. With a cell phone in nearly every pocket, the journalistic opportunities are everywhere.