Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tech and Tragedy

The Virginia Tech shooting is the deadliest in U.S. history. The news coverage of the tragedy, especially as it was breaking, was unprecedented as well.
While I was glued to the TV, horrified, I was equally absorbed in how the events were being reported. Since the massacre on Monday, almost all the broadcast news outlets have been playing the same horrifying images and sounds of the consecutive gunshots that was caught on Jamal Alburghouti's cell phone.

According to CNN, Albarghouti was on his way to see an adviser when police officers ran past him. When Albarghouti was told by the police to take cover, he did. But he didn't forget to take out his cell phone and capture the critical moments of the shooting. "When I saw the policemen taking their guns out, then I knew that this was serious,” Albarghouti told CNN. Albarghouti quickly downloaded his video to his computer and sent it to CNN I-Report. Within minutes, his video was aired on CNN as well as other media outlets. For some reason it was the rawness of his video that really hit me and made the event even more horrifying and real.

Thinking back to 9-11, the first images that the public saw were from home videos that were shot on camcorders that people happened to have with them. But now, everyone pretty much has a cell phone with camera and video functions, which makes accessibility to breaking news so much more convenient.

Web sites like Myspace and Facebook also played a huge part in letting media report its stories. CNN's Bob Franken read a couple Facebook entries on the walls of the some Virginia Tech students on the air. Evidently this was where reporters were going to find their sources. One student actually directed a comment to the media, asking media not to contact him.

It was interesting to see how integral the students were in the timely reporting of what went on. (On a tangent, it's ironic that on such a wired campus, the students who were in imminent danger weren't notified of the first shooting incident in the dorm. While capturing the video and images is great, the technology should've been used to warn people as well. One student who was interviewed even said that the University could've sent out text messages to everyone telling them to get to a safe place.)

But moving on,

Monday was the first time that "citizen journalism" was able to hold its own. In fact, the students of Virginia tech essentially became correspondents. Starting around 8 a.m., I watched CNN cover the shooting. It was the first time I saw students actually holding the CNN mic and acting as reporters-- usually it's the student being interviewed by the journalist. I was definately surprised at this role reversal.

The students themselves as eyewitnesses were obviously integral to news coverage. But the downside of this cell phone reporting is that the images can't be verified. How can you tell whether or not images have been altered or the sounds enhanced? Because everyone that has the gadgets can become a so-called reporter, where does the editorial aspect of journalism come in?

An article by Poynter columnist Amy Gahran, raises the question of the part that citizen journalism plays in breaking news. She writes:

Citizen journalism and other first-person accounts are getting more attention and respect, especially during disasters -- deservedly so, I think. But I can't help but wish that this burgeoning aspect of the media landscape could get known for on-the-spot coverage of something unexpectedly positive and beautiful.

I agree with Gahran and I think that because quantity is more important than quality in terms of knowing what's going on and the images that come with such a breaking event, it takes a huge tragedy for citizen jouranlists to play such a big role.


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

This comment has been removed by the author.

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

I think it's safe to say that "citizen journalism" via cell phone camera will take off after this. Next time there's an accident or a tragedy unfolding, there'll be lots of people taking out their cell and thinking about selling the video. While I believe in the benefits of citizen journalism, I wonder whether people will take it too far, risking their lives or getting in the way of emergency personnel to get those 15 minutes of fame or quick bucks.
Also, how will stations leverage the millions of cell phone users, so that they can ensure they get first dips on those recordings?

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