April 16, 2007 4:35 PM PDT

Journalists look to bloggers for Virginia Tech story

When a blogger known as icantread01 posted his girlfriend's tale of being shot and wounded during the Virginia Tech massacre Monday, it set off a flurry of journalists trying to get ahold of him.

Reporters from several news organizations, including CBC Newsworld, NPR and MTV News, all posted in the comments section of icantread01's LiveJournal page, hopefully asking to contact him and talk about his experience talking to his girlfriend, Kate, who he said had called him from the hospital after being shot in the hand.

The media interest generated by the blog entry illustrated a very Web 2.0 dynamic--that of bloggers and others posting personal experiences to their own sites and others like Flickr, Digg and YouTube, and having those postings or videos be not only a primary source of news, but one that journalists turn to as a way to get the story, and get it now.

"The Web basically cuts the middleman out of the picture, and allows the people who were there on the scene to get their story out to a global audience immediately," said Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review. "Of course, journalists can follow up on that, find these first-person witnesses or potential witnesses and interview them to draw more details out of them to further complete the story. So it allows the whole newsgathering process to move much more quickly."

Indeed, journalists, bloggers, camera phone and video phone users are becoming a treasure trove of firsthand information. This has proven true in situations like the 2005 London bombings, where some of the first and best reports and photographs came from individuals on the scene with their camera phones.

But now, more people than ever are using mobile phones with built-in video cameras, and that makes for an even richer supply of information than ever before.

For example, CNN ran video from a Virginia Tech student in which it's possible to hear what sound like gunshots in the background.

But while journalists may be tempted to believe reports from bloggers and those with camera phones or video phones, and to pass those reports on to readers and viewers, there is a danger that things may not be as they appear.

Only last month, an incorrect Web report that presidential candidate John Edwards was pulling out of the race due to his wife's cancer spread quickly through the media before being proven false.

Still, Niles said that has always been true.

"Journalists have always blown the details on breaking news stories," Niles said, recalling that several news outlets had reported that President Ronald Reagan had gone into open-heart surgery after being shot in 1981, which was incorrect.

"The upside to the current situation," Niles said, "is that you can correct things much more quickly. People on the ground can publish the correct information much quicker than they could in the past, and you don't have to (resort) to a correction on page A2."

That's why Niles thinks that despite the potential downsides, it's a good thing that the media looks to the Web for firsthand accounts of breaking news.

"It's an unconditionally positive development for news to have access to many more sources of information," he said.

See more CNET content tagged:
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Scary Thought
Using totally unverifiable sources...
Posted by MadKiwi (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Relying on bloggers a bad idea
As a former print media reporter, I am skeptical. There is already a problem with much information that becomes available in the first hours after a major tragedy being unreliable. Turning to bloggers is going to increase the amount of false information that must be corrected or retracted later.

I made a point of separating fact from opinion when I was blogging. Unfortunately, many bloggers do not even know the difference between the two. In addition, since many bloggers are attention seekers, you are asking for trouble. The eyewitness blogger who saw this that or the other is going to turn out not to have even been at the event.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bloggers aren't all bad
I have been blogging on this as a student whos girlfriend was one room from the attack I am trying to get names out. Unfortunately some of the tales of the event are unknown but some bloggers are getting facts so families can read since the phone networks are DOA.

some are helping :)
Posted by barnetod (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reporters don't report anymore
Believe it or not, years ago newspaper and TV reporters would actually report the news. They have not done so for years, instead merely repeating official press releases from the government and businesses. They never question the "conventional wisdom" as presented to them by officials at these organizations.

So in 1992 we had the NY Times repeating government press releases that Iraq was on the verge of acquiring atomic bombs. We went to war based on this lie. There are litterally thousands of other examples of faulty news, or news that is simply ignored by TV and the major newspapers.

For example, a blogger (talkingpointsmemo.com) discovered last fall that the justice department was firing US attorneys for political reasons. He wrote about it for weeks. No newspapers or TV news even mentioned the scandal until February, months later. The government had not issued any press releases mentioning the firings, so the reporters could not have known. In their eyes, unless there is an official press release, it did not happen.

Another example: It was a small local blog operated by an unemployed guy in Seattle that discovered that Michael Brown's job before heading FEMA was as the operator of the Arabian horse club. You would think that the major news organizations with hundreds of reporters and multi-million dollar budgets at their disposal would look up this kind of stuff, but they don't.

And for your conservatives, don't forget it was the Drudge Report that broke the Monica/Bill story, not a news organization.

So now that bloggers are reporting the news first, "reporters" are still not doing their own research. They merely repeat the blogs in addition to repeating official press releases. Well, I suppose copying and pasting is easier than actually going out and writing the news yourself.
Posted by spencerlmp (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bloggers like you?
Who gets the WMD story wrong by 10 years?

Yeah, we want to rely on bloviating know-it-alls like you, right?

I don't think so. Journalism is in danger from Wall Street's
influence. But there are plenty of good reporters out there who
do a good job, and who will alwyas do a better more thorough
job than bloggers out there who have their place in the
marketplace of ideas, but who are way too self-important when
they declare old-style journalism is dead. A gross exaggeration
of a real problem. But an exaggeration nontheless.
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Link Flag
Josh Marshall is a REPORTER
He had a successful career as a reporter long before he started his blog. Furthermore, I was one of the people who contributed to Josh Marshall's Trent Lott takedown. I did so using information that I had learned about Lott when I was a reporter in the South. You've proven the opposite of the point you intended to make -- and that reporters make good bloggers. Unfortunately, that in no way reflects the quality of the average blogger, which is very poor in regard to knowing the difference between fact and opinion and understanding ethics in journalism.

You are exactly the kind of sloppy person who gets things wrong that makes me skeptical of relying on non-professionals for news.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Thanks for this information.

iphone video
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Posted by pumaking666 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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