Friday, April 27, 2007
Dan Gillmor: 'Horror has given us a glimpse of Gilour media future'
Online Journalism News
Virginia Tech: 'Horror has given us a glimpse of our media future'
Posted: 26 April 2007
By Dan Gillmor
Once again, horror has given us a glimpse of our media future: simultaneously conversational and distributed,
mass and personal.
The killings 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
We have had any number of glimpses already in this new century. On September 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 studentsÿÿ words were achingly poignant. They were straight from the source, not pushed through a traditional-media
funnel as they had have been in the not-so-distant past.
They brought to mind a blog post I spotted after the September 11 terrorist attacks by a young man in Brooklyn, NY, across
the river from the World Trade Center. He wrote: ÿÿNow I know what a burning city smells like.ÿÿ
The democratisation of media is not just about creation, though that has been the most notable aspect so far. Putting the
tools into everyoneÿÿs 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 democratised media world, where we all have access to what we want, as well as when and where.
I didnÿÿt turn on my TV yesterday except in the evening, to watch a national networkÿÿs news report. I wanted to see a
summary of what a serious journalism organisation 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
Itÿÿs 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 September 11, 2001, were making voice calls to loved ones and
colleagues with mobile phones. What if they had been sending videos to the world of what was happening inside those doomed
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 sceptical and to find
sources we trust. We will need to retool media literacy for the new age, too.
Dan Gillmor is director of the Center for Citizen Media at the University of California, Berkeley. He is speaking at the
NMK Forum07 event in London on 7 June 2007.