From Rodney King To A Burning Man: How Sites Like YouTube Have Boldly Changed News Reporting [VIDEO]

The released video of Rodney King’s beating by police officers will forever stand as the moment when news changed forever. From that point on, eyewitnesses with cameras at the ready became the new newsmedia. With the advent of video-on-the-web sites such as LiveLeak, YouTube and the like, television channels like CNN became irrelevant. Now we get our news via firsthand footage, as tragedies and uplifting moments alike are captured and displayed for the world as they happen.

Yes, national tragedies like the Hindenburg and Columbia explosions were captured by news outlets, but that was only because tragedies emerged out of national events. Rodney King’s beating is much more akin to the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination in Dallas. News wasn’t covering it because it wasn’t expected to be news. Because some bystander was fortunate enough to have a camera, the world got to witness history in an entirely different way. And yet, it wasn’t until Rodney King’s beating that suddenly everyone seemed to have a camera. News was created because of the realized importance for people to have the capability to record themselves and others at any time. You never knew when having a camera might save or incriminate yourself or someone else.

Now you, the individual, can gather your news the same way CNN or Fox or any other reporting entity does — by scouring the internet for videos people have uploaded of events taking place in real time. Take the below footage of a man, 30-year-old Christopher Wallace jumping into a raging bonfire at a Burning Man Festival knockoff called Element 11 in Utah. This was posted by LiveLeak in its entirety — many of the news organizations neglected to include this video, choosing only to show blurry stills from moments before the man’s brutal suicide. And that is the value of video sites on the web — you can choose your own proximity to the news. Instead of being subjected to some producer’s decision on what you get to see, you can decide for yourself how exposed to the event you want to be.

Not only do you get to watch a person take their own life (2:50 mark) — again, a personally subjective and potentially positive or negative experience if you want it — but you also can experience the firemen rushing in to save Wallace, only to stop short and retreat in horror once they realize there is nothing they can do. Imagery like this is powerful and not merely gratuitous — it can influence and effectively shape opinions. Footage like this sparks outcries and forces policy changes that might not otherwise come to light.

Sites like LiveLeak and YouTube allow for conversations to be had regarding situations that, as unpleasant as they might appear in video, help the overall populace. This man, Christopher Wallace (no, not Biggie) told festivalgoers that he was going to leap into the bonfire that night. Apparently nobody listened and this video is the result. Now maybe the existence of this video can spark a conversation about the importance of promoting mental health in America? And to think that the news wouldn’t show it.

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Here are more benefits and drawbacks of unedited first-person footage:

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