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Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving

(Note: This will appear tomorrow as an op-ed piece in the Washington Examiner newspaper.)

Once again, horror has given us a glimpse of our media future: simultaneously conversational and distributed, mass and personal.

The killings Monday at Virginia Tech brought to the forefront the remarkable evolution in media over the past few years. And as we move into a time in which we will be saturated with data, we need to be clear on some of the implications of democratized media.

We’ve had any number of glimpses already in this new century. On Sept. 11, 2001, we read blog postings and watched citizen videos of planes smashing into the World Trade Center towers. During the Asian tsunami, tourist videos showed waves smashing onto shores. A man in the London underground, wielding a mobile phone camera, took the image we all remember best from that day.

The scope of the media shift was clearer again on Monday. Some of the most widely viewed images came from a mobile phone camera aimed at the police response by a student, Jamal Albaughouti. His video made its way to CNN and other media, and was seen by millions.

But others on and off the Blacksburg, Va., campus were also using conversational media in highly visible ways. Social network communications, blog postings, email and a host of other technologies were brought to bear by people who were directly and indirectly part of this huge event.

The students’ words were achingly poignant. They were straight from the source, not pushed through a traditional-media funnel as they’d have been in the not-so-distant past.

They brought to mind a blog post I spotted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by a young man in Brooklyn, N.Y., across the river from the World Trade Center. He wrote, “Now I know what a burning city smells like.”

The democratization of media is not just about creation, though that has been the most notable aspect so far. Putting the tools into everyone’s hands has produced an explosion of media creation, as blogs and sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr show us.

Traditional media think of distribution: making journalism or movies or programs and sending them out to consumers. This is inverted in a democratized media world, where we all have access to what we want, as well as when and where.

I didn’t turn on my TV yesterday except in the evening, to watch a national network’s news report. I wanted to see a summary of what a serious journalism organization had to say about what it knew so far.

Instead, during the day, I used the online media — including the major news sites — to get the latest information, sifting it, making judgments about credibility and reliability as I read and watched and listened. That, too, is the future in many cases.

It’s also worth noting that the citizen media component of this terrible event is not a new to the digital era. When President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas back in 1963, Abraham Zapruder caught the gruesome killing on a home movie camera — footage that became an essential part of the historical record. But the difference between then and tomorrow is this:

In 1963, one man with a camera captured the event on film. In a very few years, a similar situation would be captured by thousands of people — all holding high-resolution video cameras — and all of those cameras would be connected to high-speed digital networks.

That is different.

Remember, too, that the passengers aboard the airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001, were making voice calls to loved ones and colleagues with mobile phones. What if they’d been sending videos to the world of what was happening inside those doomed aircraft?

We will still need journalists to help sort things out. But the “burning city” words from 2001 revealed something.

We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any longer. The people on the ground at these events write the first draft. This is not a worrisome change, not if we are appropriately skeptical and to find sources we trust. We will need to retool media literacy for the new age, too.

29 Comments on “Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving”

  1. #1 Michael
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    How about the sickos that try and promote their blogs on the blog of those who died? SICK, SICK, SICK!

    http://www.journalscape.com/memory39/comments/85453

    After I emailed the blogger, he replied that he didn’t post it.

  2. #2 The Sarcasticynic
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    The Virginia Tech tragedy brings to mind a similar school shooting in 1979 California. 16 year old Brenda Spencer wounded nine and killed two in a shooting spree at an elementary school. She said, “I had no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun,” “It was just like shooting ducks in a pond,” and “(The children) looked like a herd of cows standing around, it was really easy pickings.”

    I Don’t Like Mondays Either, But …

  3. #3 Bloggarna först med det senaste - igen « PR 2.0
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    [...] också: “Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving” av Dan Gillmor på bloggen “Center of the Citizen Media“. Där han slutar med [...]

  4. #4 Lisa
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I want to know where were the hero’s yesturday? In my day if someone had been killing or trying to kill classmates around me and I had a good chance of getting killed you better beleive that some of us would of tried to take him down.
    Remember Safty in numbers.

  5. #5 Angela Lauria
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. I think you’ve got it exactly right. I just read Jeff Crigler’s blog at News2020project.com and I think you are on the same path. He called it a watershed moment for Citizen Journalism and I assume you’d agree. I know I do. This may not be the first time we’ve seen grief democratized but it is the beginning of a new default for crisis coverage. Think of how the Challenger Disaster or the death of John Kennedy Jr. might have been different had it happened post 4/16/07.

  6. #6 EMAC » Blog Archive » New Media in Action
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    [...] via flickr and the blog of the Roanoke Times. Venerable new media sage Dan Gillmor posts on Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving. Writes Gillmor … The scope of the media shift was clearer again on Monday. Some of the most [...]

  7. #7 Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » The new coverage
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    [...] and today and some thoughtful posts on how the tragedy was covered): Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing Dan Gillmor: Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving Poynter Online: Coverage of the Va. Tech Shootings Jack Shafer: In Praise of Insensitive Reporters [...]

  8. #8 trice.de » Blog Archive »
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    [...] Dan Gillmor hat einen interessanten Kommentar zu der (Online-)Berichterstattung rund um das Massaker an der Virginia Tech verfasst, von der ich [...]

  9. #9 Matanza en Virginia: cobertura en medios sociales » eCuaderno
    on Apr 17th, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    [...] Center for Citizen Media: Mobile Phone Journalism at Virginia Tech y Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving [...]

  10. #10 Press Gazette Blogs - Fleet Street 2.0 » Media critics look at online Virginia Tech coverage
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 12:35 am

    [...] essay on his blog which will be published today as an op-ed piece in the Washington Examiner. His eloquent conclusion is worth noting: We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any [...]

  11. #11 dave
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 4:58 am

    How about the sickos using the dead to attack gun control? Oh yes, more guns would really make campus a safer place. These people won’t be satisfied till we’re all terrified to be without one. Guns are for snivelling cowards and crazies.

  12. #12 Journos no longer write history's first draft' « sans serif
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 5:25 am

    [...] Dan Gillmor says: “We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any longer. The people on the ground at these events write the first draft. This is not a worrisome change, not if we are appropriately skeptical and to find sources we trust.” [...]

  13. #13 Podcasting News » How Media Are Evolving
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 8:36 am

    [...] Gillmor has published an interesting article at the Center for Citizen Media blog, reflecting on How Media Are Evolving. Gillmor notes that the [...]

  14. #14 Tragedy 2.0 at Blog P.I.
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 9:23 am

    [...] Via Techmeme, I see Dan Gillmor, Doc Searls and Xeni Jardin have been thinking along the same lines. And somehow, Slate’s [...]

  15. #15 Ed Driscoll.com
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Who Writes The First Draft Of History Today?…

    Dan Gilmour has some thoughts on what the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre in both the Blogosphere and the legacy media says about the current states of each media:The democratization of media is not just about creation, though that……

  16. #16 Center for Citizen Media - “Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving” » Ismail Axe
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 11:10 am

    [...] Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving [...]

  17. #17 GigaOM » VA Tech Response Reveals Force of Web
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    [...] Gillmor writes, “We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any longer. [...]

  18. #18 links for 2007-04-19 : Tama Leaver dot Net
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    [...] Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving [Center for Citizen Media] Dan Gillmor: “Once again, horror has given us a glimpse of our media future: simultaneously conversational and distributed, mass and personal.” (tags: citizenmedia citizenjournalism participatoryculture virginiatech digitalculture media blog) [...]

  19. #19 EMAC » Blog Archive » We Are All Reporters
    on Apr 18th, 2007 at 10:10 pm
  20. #20 Wordblog » Blog Archive » Where do you get your news?
    on Apr 19th, 2007 at 6:11 am

    [...] Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, did not switch on his TV until the evening on the day of the shootings in Blacksburg. Instead he “used the online media — including the major news sites — to get the latest information, sifting it, making judgments about credibility and reliability as I read and watched and listened. That, too, is the future in many cases.” [...]

  21. #21 NextBlitz
    on Apr 19th, 2007 at 7:19 am

    Virginia Tech tragedy: new media but old public safety communications…

    Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media Blog and Liz Gannes at GigaOm do a terrific job of describing the impact of new media forces on the coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy – a critical mass of people…

  22. #22 gzino
    on Apr 19th, 2007 at 7:21 am

    Great post. I think it is critical to consider that the same new media foundations could facilitate much better and more proactive public safety type communications, and help avert or minimize situations like this. Described in more detail over at NextBlitz.

  23. #23 MadTeaParty by DaniCast » Blog Archive » O horror do massacre na universidade permite vislumbrar futuro da midia
    on Apr 19th, 2007 at 7:31 am

    [...] “O massacre na universidade Virginia Tech permite vislumbrar o futuro da midia, escreve Dan Gillmor, um dos pioneiros do movimento do jornalismo colaborativo. Alem das imagens gravadas com cameras de celular, uma serie de outras midias – redes sociais, blogs, email – estavam em uso por pessoas direta ou indiretamente envolvidas. “As palavras dos alunos eram pungentes” – diz. “Elas eram direto da fonte, nao passadas pelo funil da midia tradicional, o que teria acontecido num passado nao muito distante” – analisa. A midia democratizada, que coloca na mao de qualquer um ferramentas para criar e distribuir, altera a maneira como eventos como esse entram para historia. “Costumavamos dizer que os jornalistas escreviam o 1o rascunho da historia. Nao, nao é mais assim” – avalia. “As pessoas que estao nesses eventos é que escrevem o 1o rascunho”. Leia a integra, em inglês, aqui.” [...]

  24. #24 Dan Blank: Publishing, Innovation and the Web » Blog Archive » Tragedy & Social Media
    on Apr 20th, 2007 at 5:08 am

    [...] Dan Gillmor [...]

  25. #25 Andrea King, M.S., N.C.C.
    on Apr 20th, 2007 at 9:21 am

    I feel it is important to air this information if it is coupled with thorough interviews with well known psychiatrists. Cho likely suffered with mental health disorders and unfortunately America is not educated enough, in my opinion, on such disorders as much as they are regarding physical disorders. Mental health awareness is key to preventing these massacres in the future. As a professional therapist, I want to express how very important it is for a killer to not be described as just a cold hearted murderer. This young man had mental health issues that apparently went either undiagnosed or untreated. This is not to excuse his behaviors, but at least people can better understand that biochemical imbalances likely existed. The warning signs were there, but without more education regarding mental health, these devastating events will likely continue.

  26. #26 jill/txt » links for 2007-04-22
    on Apr 22nd, 2007 at 12:27 am

    [...] Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Dan Gillmore » Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving “We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any longer. The people on the ground at these events write the first draft. This is not a worrisome change, not if we are appropriately skeptical and to find sources we trust. (tags: vtechshooting citizenmedia video virginiatech blogs) [...]

  27. #27 links for 2007-04-22 at Framtider.net
    on Apr 22nd, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    [...] Center for Citizen Media: Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving “We will still need journalists to help sort things out. /…/ We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any longer. The people on the ground at these events write the first draft.” (tags: virginia_tech journalistik deltagande_journalistik) [...]

  28. #28 Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog: VT shootings and citizen journalism « Identity Unknown
    on Apr 27th, 2007 at 7:32 am

    [...] Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media: “Once again, horror has given us a glimpse of our media future: simultaneously [...]

  29. #29 Web communities drive Virginia coverage « Webs@Work
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 9:11 am

    [...] Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media has an essay on his blog as an op-ed piece in the Washington Examiner. His eloquent conclusion is worth [...]