Dear Ferguson:

Phone cameras can be more powerful than M-16s to enforce a culture of civil behavior and accountability

Camera phones create transparency.

They are the new hardware of democracy so evident in movements like Arab Spring, but they require social media distribution to make an impact. Governments in countries like Syria and Turkey simply shutdown Twitter and Facebook when they want to quash the vox populi.

Yes, the media is still the message.

Most people around the world don’t see themselves as “citizen journalists”,

a term that connotes some sort of journalistic expertise. They usually need a galvanizing event, like a revolution or a questionable killing, to spark the idea in their heads that they can pull out that camera phone and instantly become a reporter. Once ordinary citizens realize they can do this any time, a new level of inclusive civic engagement kicks in, one that simply makes everybody more accountable to their community. Think of this new civic awareness as a mobile based neighborhood watch program, but extended universally to every citizen in the neighborhood, not just those who live there.

In Ferguson MO last week, the tragic shooting of Michael Brown did spark a wave of camera armed citizens chronicling what’s happening on their streets.

And their voices were heard nationally.

Demonstrators documented the martial reaction of the Ferguson police force on social media, and sparked a discussion by Rand Paul to demilitarize our country’s police forces.

Video will deter criminal activity on both sides of the law.

Authorities like police think twice when they are being taped, and citizen video recording perpetrators in the act have proven to be legal evidence. For cities in turmoil like Ferguson, the citizens of the city need to chronicle the events unfolding on their streets.

Every city should arm their citizens with a program for citizen journalism.

The program should teach citizens how to organize as a community watch group and use video to enforce civil accountability from all angles. People need to understand basic rules of media journalism so they distribute content that doesn’t incite violence or have destructive or hateful motives. Citizens should understand how to edit media and how to use social media to distribute content. In Ferguson, in light of the coordination of systematic looting and violence by agitators, they need to understand how to organize and coordinate with law enforcement authorities to ensure their safety. <Update: in light of police aggression against media because they don’t want their actions taped, it becomes even more critical to develop a massive “community watch” program to ensure safety in numbers. #NOINTIMIDATION>

How We’ll Contribute to the Development of a National Citizen Journalist Network

The Breaking News Network launched five years ago based on the principle of giving citizen journalists a simple way to communicate with their communities. The BNN is unique in media by giving voice to over 7,000 local newsmakers across the 400 cities it covers; they include politicians, civic groups, independent reporters, arts and nonprofit organizations. More important, they also include individuals who chronicle their communities and are often as substantive as the local journalists.

The BNN is a partner in a national program that aims to equip citizen journalists with the tools and training to chronicle what is happening on their streets. In the next few weeks, we’ll be announcing the program and use crowdfunding to expose and locally finance the program across the BNN network.