Aren't We All Journalists Now?
By Mike Masnick, Sat Jan 08 00:30:00 GMT 2005

The New York City subway wants to ban photographers -- unless you're a journalist. There's just one problem. Thanks to cameraphones, blogs and other tools, we're all journalists now.


New York City has decided that rampant "unauthorized" photographers are somehow a risk to the safety of the citizenry. Last year, city officials proposed to ban photos on the subway, claiming it was for security reasons, though the details have how this makes anyone more secure are not particularly well explained. It appears that ban is about to go into effect, oddly timed just as books and exhibitions of subway photos have become popular.

There's also an exception to the rule for: "members of the press holding valid press identification cards issued by the New York City Police Department or by others duly authorized in writing to engage in such activity by the authority." Not only is it unclear how this helps security, this exception is based on the idea that reporters of this era are somehow credentialed.

Yes, there are still credentialed press -- but reporting can come from anyone. Especially with the rapid acceptance of cameraphones, the idea that a photojournalist needs credentials to take photos on the subway seems particularly out of touch. Cameraphone photos are increasingly being used in the mainstream press -- often because the photographer happens to be on the scene and can get a quick shot before anyone else gets there. Some well known news sources are specifically looking for cameraphone photos of high profile news events to round out their coverage.

This ban basically misunderstands two major issues. First, that new photographs of the subway (because plenty of old ones exist) are somehow a security risk, and that only accredited journalists photograph the news. If anything, the rise of cameraphones makes both of those statements untrue. The ability for anyone to photograph anything suspicious at any time and to pass that info on can actually make the subways safer. Meanwhile, the ability of anyone to become a photo journalist has made the concept of the news media forever richer. New technologies often do present public policy challenges -- and this is no exception. However, when the public policy seems to completely ignore the reality of the situation, it creates more problems for everyone.