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Neda Agha-Soltan's Death — Captured Anonymously — Wins Journalism's Prestigious Polk Award, A First For 'Citizen Journalists'

In Media on February 22, 2010 at 8:18 pm
Death of Neda Agha-Soltan

Image via Wikipedia

The YouTube image was horrific and idelible — a 26-year-old woman protestor in Tehran shot and dying on the pavement. The video, of Neda Agha-Soltan was transmitted around the world from a doctor’s cameraphone to a video clip sent by e-mail with the message: “Let The World Know.”

The 37-second video became a symbol of Iranian opposition to that country’s disputed June elections.

Last week, the anonymous video won a George Polk Award, given for outstanding achievement in journalism.

Reports The New York Times:

The panel that administers the George Polk Awards, based at Long Island University, said it wanted to acknowledge the role of ordinary citizens in disseminating images and news, especially in times of tumult when professional reporters face restrictions, as they do in Iran. The university said it had never bestowed an award on an anonymous work before.

“It became such an important news element in and of itself,” said John Darnton, the curator of the Polk awards and a former reporter and editor for The New York Times.

The award in a new category, videography, recognizes “the efforts of the people responsible for recording” the death of Ms. Agha-Soltan, who collapsed on the street on June 20, apparently the victim of a sniper.

A chain of people aided in getting the video to the world, illustrating how the Internet erodes many traditional borders. The doctor sent the video clip by e-mail to several acquaintances outside of Iran, hoping they would be able to bypass the country’s Internet filters by uploading it to Web sites like YouTube.

The first person to do so, according to a Web search last June, was the Iranian man in the Netherlands, who requested anonymity to protect friends and family in Iran. The uploader spoke via telephone and e-mail, and provided The New York Times a copy of the doctor’s original e-mail message. That message was sent to five other people, and two of them confirmed that they had also received it.

In a world where so much triva is sent using social media, this is a powerful and compelling reminder of its value.

The larger challenge, going forward, will be handling complex stories and making sense of their larger context. Citizen journalists can, and do, capture raw, immediate data. It leaves the rest of us to make sense of it.

  1. I’m not the only one that’s more than a bit baffled that the also anonymous videos of the New Year’s Day, 2009, killing of the unarmed Oscar Grant at the Oakland, CA BART Station, which clearly show Peace Officer Johannes Mehserle shooting him in the back, aren’t receiving anywhere near the accolades that this one did.

    As a friend said:

    “But hey if it happens in Iran it’s a human rights violation, if its Oakland it’s business as usual.”

    • The point is that this video went viral. It moved a nation, and evoked sympathy around the world.

      One of the things a journalist, even a private citizen journalist, needs to do is to attract attention and cause change. Otherwise, why bother?

  2. Nyc, good point. The assumption — wrong in this case, as likely in many, is that the local Oakland media, or national U.S. media, would have – no one did? — pick up on that story.

    I imagine the reason this video won was also because of the courage it took to start putting it out there from within a nation where press freedom is less than that in the U.S. Whether American journalists are using their freedoms responsibily is another question…

    jake, I agree. It not only moved a nation, but many others as well. The challenge is often the great distance between attracting attention and causing change.

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