The proliferation of cameras, especially on cellphones, has drastically increased the chances that a person with a camera is among the witnesses of an event. WITNESS was founded in 1988 on the idea that the proliferation of cheap camcorders allows average people to document human rights abuses. This vision has evolved and stayed relevant as billions of people acquire networked-connected mobile cameras. The events captured by these cameras have already reshaped how we discover and consume video documenting human rights violations (see WITNESS’s Cameras Everywhere report ). We can create and share usable original footage and documentation of events at exponentially greater rates than the analog film era. This global trend has increased the pool of available photos and videos of events for every communications channel, from social media to advocacy groups to broadcast media outlets, the latter of which can license the citizen footage and broadcast it to far larger audiences. Human Rights Watch uses this exact strategy to improve the chances of international violations being picked up by the mainstream media.
Long-running crises, like starvation or climate change, often fail to match the threshold of newsworthiness generated by sudden events. Zack Sultan illustrates this spectrum between the “hot flash crisis” like an earthquake, the “slow burn crisis” like pollution, and the “glacial crisis” like cultural conflict. Some participatory aid projects seeking to deliver attention do so on behalf of long-term crises that have, due to the nature of the crisis, fallen off most of the word’s radar. A prime example of this class of project is Starved for Attention, a multimedia campaign produced by Doctors Without Borders and VII Photo. The project organized award-winning photojournalists to train their lenses on under-reported malnutrition zones around the world to generate grassroots support for improvements in formal food aid systems.
Pro Bono Media Professionals
Similar to the pro bono work conducted in other professions, publicists can donate their professional attention-driving powers to under-noticed causes. One extremely impactful recent example is the case of publicist Ryan Julison. Julison regularly donates his professional abilities to news stories that he feels did not receive sufficient media attention. When he took on the story of slain teenager Trayvon Martin on a pro bono basis, Julison was able to elevate the already-forgotten story to the national stage. Within one day of joining the effort, Julison got coverage in a syndicated Reuters article and on the national televised CBS Morning News. From here, the story went on to become one of the most-covered stories of 2012. The Reuters article itself inspired a reader to start a Change.org petition, which eventually garnered over 2 million signatures calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest.
The Ad Council was established in 1942 to “marshal pro bono talent from the advertising and communications industries to deliver critical messages to the American public.” Crowd-funded ad-buying platforms like Louder offer groups of people the ability to take a page from the government and countless corporations by banding together and placing their own commercials and billboards within traditional broadcast media.