#SMSociety14 Best Poster Winner!

Congratulation to Ana Rita Morais for winning the 2014 Best Poster Award for her poster on “Instanews: Photojournalism in the Instagram Era”!


Instanews: Photojournalism in the Instagram Era

Ana Rita Morais (@moraisanarita), Ryerson University, Canada 

Background: Where verbal and textual forms have both respectively reined as preferred modes of mobile interactions, the current era of visual mobile media has engulfed the contemporary communication landscape. Hurricane Sandy and the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution have inundated social media and mobile-photography apps like Instagram with raw, chilling, visual instances of citizen journalism. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, users were posting 10 images per second with the hashtag #sandy (Sonderman, 2012), while photos of the Ukrainian Revolution offered a direct, albeit a filtered, perspective of the political uproar in Kiev. In both of these cases it is evident that Instagram has and continues to undertake instances of credible and noteworthy news media.

Objective: While Instagram has become a platform for sharing mundane images of lunches, pets and selfies alike, the natural disasters and tragedies discussed in this paper aim to underscore the legitimacy of visual social media services as agents of both media and social authority. In theory, Instagram has Twitter’s immediacy and potential for audience reach, thus I wish to uncover the social possibility of citizen journalism through Instagram that is conventionally studied through Twitter (Bruns & Highfield, 2012; Hermida, 2012). While I do not argue that Instagram is the only place where news stories should unfold, they do serve as notable footnotes to dominant news organizations – oftentimes offering an inside, and otherwise unattainable perspective.

Methods: Content analysis of visual images was used to examine photos with the hashtag #sandy (selected images), alongside photos hosted on Instacane (a website dedicated to the story of Hurricane Sandy told through Instagram). In the case of the Ukrainian Revolution images, they were categorized via the hashtag #euromaidan (alternatively #maidan and #euromaydan). I also simultaneously looked for the presence of these images in news stories of the respective events. Only images taken with a camera were considered – memes and graphic visualizations were not incorporated into this project.

Results: Instagram photojournalism inspires a new way of seeing, one that is portable, personal and share-worthy, particularly in the case of Hurricane Katrina and the Ukrainian Revolution. Analysis showed that the social media photo sharing application was influential in circulating a plethora of images that offered an introspective point of view on natural disasters and political wars alike. While the potentials afforded by this innovative visual medium are plentiful, this research highlights some novel concerns, particularly applicable to the aestheticizing of camera phone images, and the act of photographing rather than helping.

Conclusions: Mobile photography has seen a radical intersection with both natural disasters and political turmoil of the last few years. The Arab Spring designated an unfastened arena for citizen journalists, and mobile images of Muammar Gaddafi’s death were as publicized as the story itself. Hurricane Katrina and the Ukrainian Revolution offer another critical example. Thus mobile cameras have given rise to new modes of photographic agency; mobile-photography applications like Instagram are also establishing new potential for the visual repertory of culture, and journalism.

Bruns, A., & Highfield, T. (2012). Blogs, Twitter, and breaking news: The produsage of citizen journalism. In R. A. Lind, (Ed.), Produsing Theory in a Digital World: The Intersection of Audiences and Production (pp. 15-32). New York: Peter Lang.

Hermida, A. (2012). Tweets And Truth: Journalism as a discipline of collaborative verification. Journalism Practice, 6(5-6): 659-668.

Hoffman, B. (2014, February 24). Photo Essay: Instagramming Ukraine’s Revolution. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from http://www.newsweek.com/instagramming-revolution-230020

Sonderman, J. (2012, October 29). Instagram users are posting 10 Hurricane Sandy pictures every second | Poynter. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/193479/instagram-users-are-posting-10-sandy-pics-every-second/