Protecting citizen journalism


Over the last decade the style, content and tone of journalism has changed dramatically. The principal driving force behind the shift in media has been technology.

As the Internet blossomed into the permanent fixture it is in our day to day lives, the boundaries of who reported and opined on the news, as well as the subjects that were deemed “newsworthy,” took a radically egalitarian turn — spawning the era of citizen journalism that we are right smack in the middle of today.

“Newspapers became stale. The coverage was predictable and narrow. Not to mention the fact that there was important news going on that was being left out of the paper,” explained multi-media journalist Carlos Miller, who created a provocative site called “Photography is Not a Crime” in 2007.

A soft-spoken Miamian, in the wonder years of middle age, Miller grew up reading the work of award-winning crime reporter and later noted author Edna Buchanan in the pages of the Miami Herald. Like Miller, I was drawn to Buchanan’s writing because it seemed to fill in the gaps between the Chamber of Commerce-driven “Miami is for Me” stories and whoever the Dolphins player du jour was on the cover of the sports page.

Edna Buchanan’s work sparked an unparalleled interest in readers because they read like Law & Order episodes. She depicted the dramatic, suspenseful and sometimes shameful lives of the citizens of our tropical Gotham.

In the 1990s, determined to emulate Buchanan, Miller set his course west, where he aspired to work for smalltown papers to pay his journalistic dues.

In places like San Bernardino, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz., Miller began to hone his skills while also encountering the limitations of print journalism at that time.

“I was covering border towns at a time when the tidal wave of immigration was forming.” Miller commented. “I saw first hand how a great deal of relevant news was being left out of the traditional coverage because not all of the reporters spoke Spanish and could communicate with the recent arrivals.”

During his decade-long stint as a reporter out west, Miller witnessed a healthy dose of institutional abuse, more often than not perpetrated against defenseless immigrants. He also developed a passion for photography.

“In 2007, I had had enough of the dry heat, immigration vigilantes and smalltown newspapers, so I returned to Miami, moved in with my Colombian mom and planned on earning a living by taking pictures for travel magazines and publications,” Miller explained.

It was during one of his photography assignments in 2007 that Miller’s life took an unsuspecting turn. While he snapped pictures of the new, burgeoning businesses cropping up on Biscayne Boulevard, he also decided to take a few shots of an arrest being made across the street.

The random pictures of the police that night in 2007 changed the course of Miller’s career and life.

After he took a few pictures of the incident, officers asked Miller to stop it and move along. After years of avoiding trouble, even though many times he knew the law granted him the right to snap pictures in a public place, Miller decided that night to defend his rights by disobeying the cops’ orders. The incident led to Miller’s arrest, which he eventually beat in court as he has done on two subsequent occasions where similar charges of defying orders have been brought against him.

“I discovered the power of the blogosphere when I received thousands of messages of support as I posted pictures of my first trial,” Miller told me.

It is popular financial support that fuels Miller’s “Photography is Not a Crime” blog. A group of selective readers that appreciates real stories that, sadly, too often don’t make the pages of this paper — the kind of citizen journalism that Carlos Miller has valiantly fought to protect.

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