Eat The Press

A photo taken on a cellphone during the July 2005 attacks on the London Underground became one of the iconic images of the event--normally indicative of the limitations of the technology, its hazy, grainy wobble spoke volumes about the chaos and uncertainty of that day. It marked somethine of a watershed moment as well. Like never before, the immediacy and availability of content captured by non-traditional media sources had reached a certain primacy, not replacing traditional media sources, but enhancing those accounts considerably. In the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy at Virginia Tech, important details, jarring images, and on-the-ground accounts were provided by bloggers and cell-phone slingers, even as other online services helped a community steel themselves collectively. Some highlights:

  • Jamal Albarghouti, whose cell phone footage was praised by Tom Shales in the Washington Post today, has become the public face of the "citizen journalists" who covered the event. Albarghouti has emerged as CNN's chief "I-reporter", and the content he captured has been praised by the network for the way it helped to enhance their reportage.
  • Student bloggers like Bryce Carter took to their keyboards during the unfolding event, capturing the visceral emotion that so many people in the Virginia Tech community were feeling. Another blogger, known only as "Paul," offered a firsthand account in which his wounded girlfriend was extracted and taken to the hospital.
  • Blogger and BBC journalist Robin Hamman offers an interesting account of his attempts to reach out to Livejournaler "Paul" that includes his thought process on making the approach and the interesting backlash from the online community. It demonstrates that the relationship between the mainstream media and non-traditional sources remains far from seamless.
  • Whenever tragic events like this occur, there is always a desperate scramble for information about friends and loved ones--information that big media outlets are just not built to carry. Stepping to the fore was the online social networking service Facebook. From across the country, University of Southern California student offers the service high marks: "I was able to immediately find out who was OK...Without Facebook, I have no idea how I would have found that out."
  • Virginia Tech student Anthony Le gathered information from a police scanner and then reported his findings to Digg. "The count of the fatalities was a lot slower on CNN than on Digg."
  • Virginia Tech's MySpace page allows a nation of well-wishers to connect and support the campus community.
  • The photography of Alan Kim of the Roanoke Times made it onto the photo-share service Flickr.
  • MSNBC has an account of the events told through VT student Laura Anne Spaventa, who text-messaged her brother throughout the day as she was locked down in class. It captures the uncertainty of the moment quite well, and the siblings' periodic attempts to assuage each other through humor tells a story that traditional reporters cannot capture.

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