On Wednesday, I was sitting at lunch when all of a sudden the two women sipping wine and eating salads at the table next to mine started frantically placing and answering calls on their iPhone and Blackberry.
“Shootings!…Terrorists!…I know people there!”
After already being on alert from the headlines on Yahoo’s frontpage about possible terror attacks in the New York Subway system, I began to really listen. Both continued to try to get in touch with friends and family thought to be in Mumbai.
Trying to figure out what they were talking about, I went to my blackberry. I first went to CNN.com – nothing. Then to NYTimes.com – nothing. Finally to Google News “Mumbai” – nothing. Once I left the restaurant twenty minutes later, I checked again – “Deadly shootouts across Mumbai Luxury Hotels.” It took a full twenty minutes after hearing first hand, for the news outlets to begin reporting online.
I remember in 1999, when the world first heard news about the massacres at Columbine High School, going to AOL to search the directory of members in Columbine, CO. I found their screennames and asked them first hand what happened. While I had to be proactive in getting a first hand account for these people, it was first hand and it was pretty immediate. Barriers created by distance had been broken and I could, in my own way, get close to the actual events that took place.
In 2001, with the terror attacks on the Twin Towers, instant updates were being posted to blogs from people in lower Manhattan. Blogging really brought a major shift from traditional journalists being the first to report news to citizen journalists being even faster to report. I no longer had to be proactive in seeking out information from those who had experienced events first hand because they were able to efficiently share with a world willing to listen.
As technologies have improved, so has the ability to share and report news from a eyewitness account. CNN has a very interesting article on how social media was used in the wake of last weeks terror attacks in Mumbai. They report, “80 messages, or “tweets,” were being sent to Twitter.com via SMS every five seconds, providing eyewitness accounts and updates.” Many people said they heard about the attacks in Mumbai on Twitter well before they saw it from the traditional news media outlets. Other tweets were updates on where people could donate blood.
CNN continued by saying “Twitter remains a useful tool for mobilizing efforts and gaining eyewitness accounts during a disaster, the sourcing of most of the news cannot be trusted. A quick trawl through the enormous numbers of tweets showed that most were sourced from mainstream media”
While tweets cannot always be taken as fact, it does prove that as the technologies enabling people to share and inform improve, so does the speed and amount of information being reported. People are able to share a eyewitness account from across the world and in great volume, and it is technologies like Twitter that can aggregate this information making it accessible to the rest of the world.
If blogging empowered the citizen journalist, twittering empowered the citizen. Anyone can type 140 characters.