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Summary of Paul Lewis Tedx Talk on the Power of Mobile Phones and Social Media — Innovations That Are Making Every Person a Potential Journalist

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Paul Lewis uses social media and cellphone video and photos to build hard-hitting stories. He first gained notice for his reporting on the death of Ian Tomlinson, when he used a witness’ cellphone video to prove that the police attacked Tomlinson at the 2009 G-20 protests

The international story led to an internal police investigation and changed the way we think about self-policing in a digital era.

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With more and more regular Joes snapping photos in the street, live-tweeting breaking news from the ground, and acting as free sources of political, economic and cultural analysis, not everyone is confident about the future of professional journalism

But according to TED speaker Paul Lewis, who shared two dramatic examples of citizen journalism at work at TEDxThessaloniki in 2011, the pros aren’t going anywhere. As he says this week in an interview with the TED Blog, “there are far more benefits from a collaborative approach working in an engaged way with citizens than there are disadvantages. So I think it’s actually quite a good new news story.” As the head of multimedia special projects at The Guardian, Lewis worked on the cases of political refugee Jimmy Mubenga, whose 2010 death on an airplane was attributed to illness until Lewis and Matthew Taylor gathered crowdsourced information revealing he died of asphyxiation by security guards, and Ian Tomlinson, whose death at the 2009 G20 protests in London was officially said to be caused by a heart attack. Lewis collected footage from other people who’d been at the event to show that Tomlinson, a bystander, had been assaulted and killed by riot police.

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Given these points, the dynamics of the attention economy are structurally set up to undermine the human will. If politics is an expression of our human will, on individual and collective levels, then the attention economy is directly undermining the assumptions that democracy rests on. If Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are gradually chipping away at our ability to control our own minds, could there come a point, I ask, at which democracy no longer functions?

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