7/7/05 London Bombings and Citizen Journalists

August 3, 2009

During my very first visit to London, I woke up to a morning similar to any other — except I slept in later than usual;  after all, I was on vacation.  I had my morning cup of coffee and turned on the TV only to discover that July 7, 2005 would not be like any other. 

Explosions had taken place in the London tube at various stations.  One being Edgware Road, the area where I was staying.  To say I was scared would be an understatement.

At first, the media and government announced the explosions as underground ‘circuit shortages’ that had occurred throughout the lines.  A map of the entire tube was pictured on the news report indicating each affected station with a red circle.  But to me, it seemed much too coincidental that this happened at so many stops throughout the tube; and, sure enough, 20 minutes later, a double decker bus exploded.  At that point, all of the explosions were verified to be bombings as part of a large calculated terriorist attack.

I was shocked, stunned, scared, and confused all at the same time.  I could hear engines outside and people in the streets.  My initial impulse was to stay locked inside and wait it all out.  However, my travel buddy thought otherwise.  His initial impulse was to run to the streets and find out the facts of the story.  After much convincing, and perhaps a feeling of obligation to make sure he was not harmed throughout our trip, I agreed to go outside with him and find out more information about what exactly happened.  After all, the media didn’t get the whole story right the first time (‘circut shortages’), we wanted to get to the bottom of it.  Plus, we were in the middle of it all.

We stepped outside to find chaos everywhere.  The tube stations were closed and filled with police and caution tape lining each corner.  We couldn’t get very far.  But, the looks on people’s faces, including the police, told it all.  Everyone felt the same way as I did: shocked, stunned, scared, and confused.  But many of them had something I didn’t (due to traveling abroad), a camera cell phone.

 

During the summer of 2005, camera cell phones were the rage.  A relatively new product (at least to those will a normal-sized bank account), they were just beginning to become a cell phone ‘norm.’

According to the BBC, this day in history, 7/7/05, was when “the phenomenon of “user-generated content” (UGC) or “citizens’ journalism” came into its own in Britain, as members of the public took over the roles of photographers and news correspondents.”  And I fully agree.

I was there to witness the massive amounts of people who had their cell phone camera on them and used it, over, and over, and over.  Even without a cell phone camera in hand, I began to feel guilty for just wandering the streets.  Like a car wreck, people were drawn to the tube stations.  The sidewalks and streets were filled with onlookers.

Building on the BBC article on citizen journalism, The Online Journalism Review  claims that 7/7/05 marks the day that the UK public became citizen paparazi, not journalists.  From my experience there, I would have to agree with this as well.  It seemed that the general public went overboard with their camera-happy involvement in the activity both in the streets and underground. 

On the other hand, however, how else would the rest of the world hear and understand the tragedy?  A major image that sticks with many of us is the bus explosion, a photograph taken by a civilian.  This citizen journalist, who choses to remain anonymous, won the Nokia Citizen Journalism Award for this photo.  This image allowed people to see firsthand the impact of the terrorist attacks — giving them a personal and emotional connection.  Anna Shipley, Communications Manager of Nokia UK said: “…Citizen Journalism is very much being recognised as a credible part of the media agenda. The increasing quality of camera phones has meant that more and more people are able to capture spontaneous and newsworthy moments whilst going about their everyday lives.”

Similar to many other countries, participation in online social networking and media has incrased in Great Britain. The reports on the 7/7/05 bombings proved that the work submitted by citizen journalists is unmatched by any mainstream media news source; a comprehensive and truthful story can be told by working with, not against, each other.

It is clear that citizen journalism took off on 7/7/05 in London, and has little signs of ever stopping.

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Model Citizen

July 5, 2009

The use of mobile technology has made India into the Model Citizen (journalist). In November of last year, gun shots were fired in theTaj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai. The images of the terrorist acts were captured and shared via mobile technology. The devastation from the terrorist act transformed India into the model of how technology is transforming people into citizen journalists, adding a new dimension to the news media.

The cameras and phones carried by people swept up in the attacks were not subject to any such rules. Mr. Shanbhag photographed one of the fires at the Taj hotel and the wreckage outside a popular cafe that was attacked on Wednesday and posted them on his Flickr stream. Some people transmitted video from inside the Taj hotel to news networks via cellphones. And reporters used cellphones to send text messages to hotel guests who had set up barricades in their rooms.”

It is no coincidence that India is the perfect case study for citizen journalism. There are over 400 million mobile phones in use in India, making it the second largest country with the number of mobile phones, behind only China but ahead of the United States. As the terrorist attack escalated, US news coverage was basically nonexistent as a result of major financial cuts on foreign news desks. CNN was the only major news network to have a reporter on the ground; thus, making mobile phones the best way to capture the images of the assaults.

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Beyond the visual imagery, people began micro-blogging through their Twitter accounts about the events, using their mobile phones. Twitter uses a SMSes of the mobile phones and, with over 6 million subscribers at the time, it made Mumbai the perfect storm to cover for citizen journalists to emerge.

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Beyond Mumbai, companies and news organizations can empower the citizens of India to boast about brands, capture images, report the news and have conversations within India. It is likely news organizations will create platforms like iReport.com on CNN and track stories through conversation on social media tools like Twitter. Channel V, the Asian MTV, has tried to mobilize young adults through www.myindiareport.in/.

Reuters is using mobile phones to provide a subscription service to farmers in rural India, where they can obtain a more accurate price on their crops by dispatching reporters into the region to report the right information at the right time to ensure success of what’s occurring with the global market. This sort of platform can level the playing field and spur economic growth.

What is even more amazing is the current infrustructure and the capacity for growth for mobile phones is still huge with only 35 percent of the market actually owning one. Social media and active citizens reporting the news is still in its infancy in India, but the potential is limitless with the number of mobile phones already introduced in the market place. Marketers and news organizations would be foolish not to recognize the potential to harness mobile technology to empower the people of India.


Twitter, Citizen Journalism, and the Mumbai Attacks

July 5, 2009

Last year, the world saw how citizen journalists used Twitter to report on the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai as they unfolded. In addition to learning about the attacks, the public also learned about the power that individuals can have to communicate information to a large audience.

Twitter became the most useful source of real-time information about the attacks, according to blogger Gaurav Mishra, and the number of posts jumped to as many as 1,000 in an hour on the day of the attacks. The Daily Telegraph stated that there were up to 70 Tweets every five seconds at one point.  (The Times of India reported two million unique website visits from readers looking for information on the attacks.)

Snapshot of volume of Twitter posts during Mumbai attacks. Source: gauravonomics.com

Snapshot of volume of Twitter posts during Mumbai attacks. Source: gauravonomics.com

“Twitter quickly become the de facto source for on-ground intelligence for mainstream media, and the few citizen journalists on-site in Mumbai become in-demand pundits overnight,” Mishra wrote.

A day after the attacks, international organizations were covering the social media element of the attacks, in addition to the attacks themselves. Mishra states that while most Indians were getting their information about the attacks through Indian television networks, the world was getting the information from the Twitter posts.

Although Twitter has shown to be a very useful tool to communicate short bursts of information in real-time, there are also drawbacks. During the terror attacks last year, media around the world were relying on messages sent via Twitter to learn more about the unfolding situation. Unfortunately, the immediacy of such lightning fast communication in a chaotic, stressful situation also resulted in confusion when contradictory or incorrect information was tweeted. News organizations were reporting confirmed and unconfirmed reports, including CNN and the The Daily Telegraph. Both restated unconfirmed reports that the Indian government asked Twitter users to stop sending messages (the Telegraph said the report was “alleged”). The report was never attributed to a named source, and the BBC included it on a blog post discussing myths surrounding coverage of the attacks and the use of social media tools as part of the reporting.

smsgupshupThough not widely reported here, users of SMSGupShup, a leading India-based SMS-based service similar to Twitter, also posted their own updates. Company CEO Beerud Shuth has said the service has over 20 million local users.

In a crisis, individuals and organizations often need to rely on the most expedient method of communicating important information and obtaining help. Increasingly, that means the use of social media tools.  Because these tools are relatively new and evolving, the rules for using them are changing daily, with organizations trying to balance the need to provide accurate and timely information against the need to keep up with technology.  

The usefulness of Twitter as an information dissemination tool cannot be denied. As its use increases, it is important that corporate and government organizations (including first-responders), along with mainstream news organizations, continue to update their codes of conduct and operating procedures to incorporate Twitter-use policies, and for organizations to use and produce information judiciously.