Friday, April 20, 2007

Newsgathering during a tragedy

Like everyone else, I cannot let this week go by without mentioning the horrific disaster at Virginia Tech. I too was glued to the television and Internet for days following the tragedy.

As a journalist, as I followed the story, I was captivated by the role of the Internet in the newsgathering process. It seemed like so much of the information was coming from online sources. Reporters were able to find out what was going on inside the school by getting access to instant message chats that had taken place between students and their parents and friends while they were on lockdown in their classrooms.

The online version of the college paper at Virginia Tech school newspaper, The Collegiate, became one of the major sources of news for the story as the website was repeatedly updated by student reporters. The site provided firsthand accounts, articles and information for parents. At one point during the afternoon, the site went down because there was so much traffic and the site’s parent company had to host the site. The editor-in-chief of the paper also appeared on shows all week.

As the victims names were revealed, news organizations instantly had lots of information about them from MySpace and Facebook. News outlets were quoting posts and using pictures from these social networking sites, and they found sources from their stories as well.

The centerpiece of the coverage the first day was video footage from a cell phone that recorded the gunman’s shots as police approached the building. The footage had been submitted to CNN through the I-Report function, where viewers can send in pictures and footage to the network.

As a 21st century journalist, I’m realizing how imperative it is to not only understand the ins-and-outs of the Internet, but I need to know how to be an active participant in the World Wide Web.

Imagine the advantage reporters had who understood how Facebook and Myspace work. They were invaluable sources when tracking down sources and finding information about victims.

Also, in times of breaking news, every media outlet, regardless if their specialty is print or broadcast, update their Web sites every few minutes with more information. Even if I am going into broadcast, I better know how to write for the web. I can’t simply transcribe my packages for air—those stories don’t often translate well to the Internet.


At Friday, April 20, 2007, Blogger AJS said...

I agree with your points and generally that the web is hugely important, but I think this story has shown exactly what it is people want from the web. And it's not news made for the web.

Instead, I think this makes clear people want stuff they've seen on TV, just when they want it and in bite-sized packages. The other thing they want from the web is news content updated quickly, and also social integration and communal experiences. Obviously, that's a huge strength of the web and journalists should make use of it. But to me, the way people have used the web in relation to this story shows how important TV still is as the main news delivery medium. Tragedies like this just beg for TV coverage and play to TV's strengths. Without TV stations and existing print newspapers powering web content, we would have had very little information.

At Saturday, April 21, 2007, Blogger MW said...

For big stories like this, the web can't compete with TV, at least not yet. When a viewer gets absorbed but something tragic and horrific like this, there's something about continuous, live coverage that draw them, something they don't get from a static page they have to refresh every few minutes.

Having said that, the TV coverage is frustrating in its own right. As mentioned in other blog entries, it can be too repetitive (we get the same questions and same answers, and they sometimes aren't that enlightening) and too cold (the way some anchors conduct their interviews...though just to be clear, I'd take cold, antiseptic coverage over tasteless, overdramatic coverage anyday).


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