Virginia Tech and social media: some questions for newsrooms

April 19, 2007

Mourning girls at Virginia Tech******The tragic events at Virginia Tech earlier this week will take their own place in U.S. history. Alongside the Asian Tusnami and London’s 7/7 bombings, the reporting of them may also come to be seen as a defining moment in participatory or citizen journalism. I was struck by a number of issues newsrooms had to confront.******Does mainstream media’s promotion of citizen journalism encourage risk-taking?***The iconic video from Jamal Albarghouti — was submitted to CNNs i-reports citizen journalism project. Widely lauded, it nevertheless led observers including lhe Philadelphia Daily News’ Ellen Gray to ask whether the lure of recognition by traditional media is prompting citizens to take unnecessary risks.******Is there a risk of repeating unfounded rumours found on the social web?***Facebook the social networking site which focuses on students was the forum for many tributes to those killed. And friends struggling to make contact via phone were able to check whether students were OK via their Facebook pages. But social networking sites like Facebook were used by bloggers attempting to establish the identity of the killer and a Virginia Tech student whose online profile in LiveJournal graphically illustrated his penchant for guns, found himself the target of much abuse. Wired made the observation that mainstream media had not named the accused but this changed when he later turned to traditional media to clear his name.******Does the advent of social media render censoring of material on the grounds of taste irrelevant?***NBC agonised over screening parts of the killer’s ‘multimedia manifesto’ and attracted criticism. But seasoned bloggers like Dave Winer point out the tendency for such material to end up on the Web eventually anyway. Winer advocates allowing citizens to make up their own minds whether to watch or not.******How should journalists handle requests to use material from social media?***On photo-sharing site Flickr a Virginia Tech Shooting pool was set up attracting a number of media enquiries about access to the images. If, as in this case, media requests are made via comments in discussions or blogs, the interested reader can see the newsgathering process in the raw. Journalists leave highly visible footprints and are going to have to learn to step lightly.******Are blogs and social networking sites ‘fair game’ for journalists looking for quotes?***The BBCs Robin Harman, whose personal blog is widely followed by journalists, was one of the first to start compiling eyewitness accounts from blog entries. Some of those he sampled found themselves being contacted directly by journalists for interviews, and some found that objectionable. Robin admits to being shaken by the experience and advocates greater sensitivity among journalists to what should be considered private at such times.******Do journalists have the skills to harness social media?***Amid the profusion of content sources and the huge volume of comment, Shane Richmond, community editor for the U.K.s Daily Telegraph, likened seeking original sources to looking for a needle in a haystack and references Paul Bradshaw‘s call for journalists to become proficient in Technorati, YouTube and their like.******I’m not sure about the answers, I’m certain the questions aren’t going away. What do you think?***Mark Jones is Reuters Global Community Editor******Photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Comments

I think it is pretty sad that they showed the video but bleeped out the cursing. What is wrong with our society? God for bid people hear the “F” word. We can encourage other people to do horrible things by showing them that they will have a platform to project their rants on afterwords but make sure you don’t use bad language. It is the same reason why networks don’t show people running on the field during sporting events because they don’t want to encourage it, but when it comes to a murderous rampage, the media is all for exploiting it to no end. NBC makes me sick.

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