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Crunch! What Are a Citizen Journalist’s Rights

So I see a car crash. I park the car, get out my camera and start shooting still photos and some video. Soon a Georgia State Police officer starts asking me questions like my name and address. At first I refuse, saying it is a public space. He gets a little more intimidating and maybe it is because of the nature of the crash. All of which builds into an interesting question: What should a citizen journalist do under these circumstances? I would like to use this example as a case study. Anyone want to help out? See the video and as usual please excuse the production values. Oh, yeah, I will try to find out what actually happened.

Update: Marietta Daily Journal reports that Trooper Grant Rowe didn’t stop in time and caused this six car rear end crash chain reaction. He was just on general patrol.

3 Responses to “Crunch! What Are a Citizen Journalist’s Rights”

  1. E. I. Sanchez Says:

    One thing missing from this report is whether or not people were hurt. It sounds like you knew there weren’t any people involved.

    If there had been people hurt, compassion would need to take over. One could still pay attention to the details (who, what, where, etc) but helping people would be the primary focus of a Citizen Journalist. Reporting the story would have to come second. Most journalists would claim they are doing both at the same time – but I disagree with lots of them.

  2. Joshua Johnson Says:

    I think a CITIZEN has the right to be in a public space witnessing an accident as (or after) it happens. I also think that a JOURNALIST has the responsibility to understand crime scene dynamics and be as inobtrusive as possible. No citizen or journalist has the right to impede a police investigation – and I’m not accusing you of that – but I wouldn’t allow it in the name of the First Amendment.
    Yes, there is a case study to be made. We have to create conventional wisdom among “citizen journalists” such that authority figures won’t harass them, and the journalists won’t become a nuisance.
    It’s a good question you raise. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi Joshua:

    Actually, I parked my car after seeing all the cops and fire engine. Then was on the sidewalk with other spectators, when immediately the trooper came up to me and asked me for my name and address and who I was taking photos for. I wasn’t in anyone’s way. After I refused to give him the information he went away and then I walked up real close and started shooting some video and stills, all with my little Canon PowerShot. Frankly at that point I was surprised I was not told to get back on the sidewalk, but I wasn’t. When I got to the other side of the street on the sidewalk, the trooper approached me again and asked for my name and address, he said I was a witness. A witness? I had arrived long after the accident took place. Plus there was a cop taking official photos. Again I told him he had no right to ask, then he played the how-would-like-to-get-arrested card. I played the I-am-a-journalism-professor card. Then I gave him the information. Then continued collecting stills and video shots.

    Another professor here at Kennesaw State and I are thinking of building it into a case study with plenty of information on citizen and journalists’ rights — and restrictions — and then allow students to write a short paper on what they would have done under similar circumstances. Click on my ethics case study here at the site to get a little idea of possibilities.

    Maybe if we get that far, if you are willing, I would like to do a little Q&A with you to get a working journalist’s opinion. We would work that into the background information for the case study, along with legal codes, cop interviews and newsroom and professional association policies.

    Ps. To answer E.I. Sanchez’s question, no one was injured.