November 30, 2008

Mumbai Tragedy Shows Rise of Internet Citizen Journalists

The tragic events in Mumbai this past week have “served as another case study in how technology is transforming people into potential reporters, adding a new dimension to the news media,” according to Brian Stelter and Noam Cohen in their New York Times story, “Citizen Journalists Provided Glimpses of Mumbai Attacks.”

Stelter and Cohen write:

“At the peak of the violence, more than one message per second with the word “Mumbai” in it was being posted onto Twitter, a short-message service that has evolved from an oddity to a full-fledged news platform in just two years.

Those descriptions and others on Web sites and photo-sharing sites served as a chaotic but critically important link among people across the world — whether they be Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn tracking the fate of a rabbi held hostage… or students in Britain with loved ones back in India or people hanging on every twist and turn in the standoff while visiting relatives for Thanksgiving dinner.”

Noah Shachtman, posting on on the first day of the attacks, shows the breadth of coverage by such citizen journalists:

“First-hand accounts of the deadly Mumbai attacks are pouring in on Twitter, Flickr, and other social media.

Twitter has fresh news every few seconds, on Mumbai, Bombay, #Mumbai, and @BreakingNewz.

"Hospital update. Shots still being fired. Also Metro cinema next door," tweets mumbaiattack. "Blood needed at JJ hospital," adds aeropolowoman, supplying the numbers for the blood bank.

A Google map of the attacks has already been set up. So has a shockingly-current Wikipedia page, which features a picture of one of the gun-toting attackers.

The local bloggers at Metblogs Mumbai have new updates every couple of minutes. So do the folks at GroundReport. Dozens of videos have been uploaded to YouTube. But the most remarkable citizen journalism may be coming from "Vinu," who is posting a stream of harrowing post-attack pictures to Flickr.”

To me, this is the web’s social networking at its best: democratic, grassroots, newsworthy, and life-changing.

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