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Charges laid following Vancouver Stanley Cup riots illustrate citizen journalism

Posted by Steve Hulford on 02.11.11

Vancouver Rioters were identified by people with smartphones as seen here
Busted by the smartphone!

November 2th, 2011 - Toronto. When Vancouver police chief Jim Chu suggested 163 charges against 60 locals who rioted during June’s Stanley Cup celebrations-gone-awry, the city’s tired citizens let out a collective cheer that those who burned cars, destroyed shops and ran amok would finally be brought to justice.

While it took Vancouver’s police months to finally identify the perpetrators, it was with the help of closed-circuit TV cameras, as well as videos and photos submitted by Vancouverites—most disgusted by the behaviour of their fellow citizens—that allowed police to finally take action. According to police data:

  • 49 rioters were identified after 125 photos were posted online
  • More than 100 different formats of video and images were submitted to aid police investigations
  • More than 5,000 hours of video was examined and processed by a team of 50 forensic analysts from 40 police agencies. Those investigators spent 4,000 hours analyzing video and images over a 14-day span
  • Their work identified more than 15,000 criminal acts
  • More than 30 terabytes of data was processed in total—the equivalent of 7,500 DVDs or 45,000 CDs

As we’ve long argued here at Filemobile, the role of the citizen journalist has become ever-more important in an era where news agencies face constant budget pressures and are hard-pressed to deploy the necessary number of reporters to cover (in this case) a riot, or another major news event. As we witnessed during Vancouver’s post-Stanley Cup chaos, citizen journalists were the ones at the forefront of the mayhem, shooting video or taking photos with their mobile devices, then providing that content to traditional news organizations—and in many cases, the police department—to report the historic event live.

Of course, their efforts later became a critical element in facilitating the ongoing name-and-shame campaign pushing rioters to surrender to police.

What has driven the growing importance of citizen journalism over the past two years? There are many factors, but improved technology is a key reason: as mobile device adoption has increased, upload speeds have become dramatically faster and both Wi-Fi and cellular network coverage has improved, average citizens have become involved in shaping news coverage like never before. The extent of that coverage has varied widely, from weather events such as heat waves and hurricanes, to this year’s Arab Spring uprisings which helped topple dictators across the Middle East.

Monday’s news about charges stemming from the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots helped move a great city towards closure of a sad chapter in its history. It also reminded us that citizen journalism has many faces, many functions and many outcomes.

We hope its future uses are more positive than identifying rioting thugs and looters.

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