(Rather than heavily annotate this post with links, I’m going to use a limited number throughout the post and provide a link list at the bottom of this post.)
I’ve seen a couple of posts (but only a couple) suggesting that the way we were informed about the tragedy at Virginia Tech was another “victory” for citizen journalism, but I think we’re way past that point. What yesterday showed me was the new mediascape in action, a potent mix of journalists, witnesses and aggregators telling the story better than any of them could alone.
Some of the elements:
1. The media. No reasonable person can doubt the ability of the media to rise to its best in the toughest times. Coverage was excellent, from the New York Times to the VT student newspaper.
2. The web. The infrastructure (the constituent parts of the web) allowed spread and discovery. I learned of the shooting from a blogger, who had heard about it via Twitter. Within minutes I had dozens of open browser windows, tracking the story through dozens of sources.
3. The aggregators. Dozens of web sites and bloggers provided extensive list of links to sources ranging from the newspapers and TV stations, to the blogs of VT students, to Facebook and YouTube and more.
4. The helpers. Poynter, for instance, quickly had a number of posts at its site helping reporters deal with covering the crisis.
The thing is this: it was the combination of all of these, and more, that brought me the story. We’re past the MSM vs. blogs, the old vs. new, the pro vs. amateur. We have arrived at a symbiosis, each “side” feeding the other and we’re richer for it.
The media benefited greatly from what has developed on the net. The way members use such popular services as Facebook and MySpace links journalists more easily with those personally affected by news. The use of blogging as storytelling at a number of news sites, including the NY Times, shows how the cultures are mixing and mingling. The newspapers that provided the best mix of coverage, not surprisingly, were those who are already well advanced on the road to reinvention. The prime example: The Roanoke Times.
On the net, bloggers found and aggregated links, some from media, some from other bloggers, social sites and other sources. All were treated equally: it was the value of the information, not the value of the brand, that mattered. And by aggregating it all, putting it in context, and providing the links, they made it easy to follow the story as it developed. That’s journalism, too. (A particularly good example was the work done by Bryan Murley and his staff at Innovations in College Media. It was timely and comprehensive stuff. See the link below.)
Yes, I saw dreadful things from some bloggers. There were at least two instances where “investigative” bloggers publicly named the wrong man as the shooter. Mouthbreathing idiotic political bloggers immediately blamed the shooting on Muslims, the lack of God in the classroom, lax gun laws, the fact students were unarmed….
I saw horrible journalism from media, too. During a televised press conference, I heard what I presume was a reporter ask this (paraphrased): I know I would have tried to tackle the gunman and gone down fighting. Do you know if anyone tried something similar? What a shameless idiot. And CNN’s coverage, when I finally turned the TV on after a couple of hours on the web, was rich in inanity: crawls with wrong information, pointless conversations with “experts,” and more.
Forget the idiots on both sides of what was once a divide. Overall, the media did sterling work. So did the “unofficial” media, the much-berated blogosphere or whatever you want to call it. Together, they produced something bigger and deeper than either alone. As a reader, someone trying to get as much information as quickly as I can, I was the winner.
What’s amazing isn’t that this has happened: it’s how quickly this new mediascape has become established.
A partial link list (some of the interesting posts/sites I visited repeatedly yesterday and today and some thoughtful posts on how the tragedy was covered):
Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing
Dan Gillmor: Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving
Poynter Online: Coverage of the Va. Tech Shootings
Jack Shafer: In Praise of Insensitive Reporters
Bryan Murley and staff at Innovations in College Media
Steve Outing: Social networking plays a role in another big story
Online Press Gazette: Virgina Tech shooting raises new issues for journalists
Mathew Ingram: The crowd reports the Virginia Tech story