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Friday, April 20, 2007

The Los Angeles Times ran this headline...

"Student-run media meet challenge: The campus newspaper and website, other sites and radio station break scoops and serve as community forums"In memory of students and faculty killed at Virginia Tech

"Reporters for the student-run newspaper churned out stories even as phones failed, police evacuated them from their offices in the student center, and their website crashed as it was discovered by readers the world over.
"'We knew there was going to be some kind of reliance on us, and we couldn't let people down,'" said former sports editor Joe Kendall, 21, a political science major from Ashburn, Va., who had taken over only that morning as the paper's managing editor."

The print edition of the Virginia Tech paper, Collegiate Times, ran its first story under a one word headline: "Heartache."

Here in Knoxville, a much different headline quickly had the city's professional daily apologizing. "We blew it," editor Jack McElroy wrote in a lengthy blog entry, adding in its comments section that he plans to repeat the message in the Sunday paper.

Because readers would have heard of the horrible events in Blacksburg long before the Tuesday paper hit the street, News Sentinel editors decided to lead the front page with a later Associated Press item, one that asked whether the university could have acted more quickly.

"... and that issue will continue to be raised," McElroy said in his blog the next day. "But when a quote was drawn from the story, the one that was selected proved to be too vivid, accusatory and harsh in tone. It's understandable that a distraught 18-year-old might say university officials had 'blood on their hands.' But those words weren't a good choice to elevate to 72-point bold type the day after such a tragedy."

News Sentinel readers quickly raised objections to the Tuesday headline, and McElroy posted his apology the same day. The local weekly MetroPulse also pointed out that the glaring headline quoted "a kid under duress," and came to the defense of the university officials, saying in its own headline, "Blame the killer, not the custodians of the university."

Journalists' reflections on coverage of the terrible event started early and continued through the week. The Poynter Institute posted almost 20 columns discussing issues from NBC's use of the killer's video to online news sites' difficult questions about managing comments on discussion forums. (Among other things, the article reports that The New York Times put about a half-dozen people to work checking about 2,400 comments submitted in connection with the shootings.)

Among Poynter's links, I noticed a blog item by a former student of mine in Massachusetts, Mac Slocum, who raises questions about citizen journalists putting themselves in harm's way. He asks, "Should news organizations have a set of citizen journalism standards that editors/producers refer to during crisis situations?"

Other coverage and discussion of the role of bloggers, YouTube users and more...

  • Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media: "Once again, horror has given us a glimpse of our media future: simultaneously conversational and distributed, mass and personal."
  • Jon Garfunkel on the PBS Media Shift blog: "New media triumphalism is now professionalized, and the major journalism studies programs all contribute to it."
  • Chris Lydon and listeners at Radio Open Source: "Is there anything to learn about the way we use new technologies in this first mass-murder made, as it were, for YouTube?"
  • Update: Jack Lail at the News Sentinel put together a more extensive two days of link lists in his blog when I wasn't looking, including praise for
  • ...and there were more, from as far afield as the Toronto Globe and Mail, The Independent in London... even the Middle East Times.

In fact, one of the first things I noticed in the online coverage was that you didn't have to go to to find eyewitness "citizen" accounts of the event -- within hours the BBC was asking for original contributions and discussion by readers.

Media reporter Phil Rosenthal at the Chicago Tribune summed it up this way:

In an earlier age, maybe a year or so ago, it was the arrival of anchors on scene that conferred a certain importance to a given news event. They no longer do that and we no longer expect them to. In the race to a story, they can't beat citizen journalists who don't have to book a flight or arrange satellite time.

By the dinner-time newscast, the day's news is old news. There remains a role for traditional media, but, increasingly, the news is speaking for itself.

10:54:11 PM    comment []

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