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The New Front Line Of Journalism

Guest Post:  Asher Lurie is an emerging PR professional, ready to make his mark.  Prior to receiving a post-graduate certificate in PR from Humber College, Asher earned his Masters degree in media studies from the University of Western Ontario, where he focused on popular music and culture. You can connect with Asher on Linkedin or Twitter.

It is said that tragedy often brings about the best in people. This has been proven several times over in the weeks that followed tragic events through inspirational stories of marathon participants running to hospitals to donate blood, communities coming together to help with rescue and clean-up efforts in Oklahoma following the tornado, and the outpouring of support provided to the Bosma family in the days following Tim’s death.

It can also be said that tragedy often brings about the best in social media, and all that it can provide. This was perhaps never clearer than in the hours and days that followed the Boston Marathon bombings. People from around the world used social media as an outlet in which to provide others with information, those around Boston offered their homes and businesses as a place of refuge for marathon runners, and people rallied around hashtags like #BostonStrong and #PrayforBoston.

However, the real amazing thing that came from this occurred a couple days later, during the police shootout and subsequent manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Social media sites, specifically Twitter and Reddit, were offering readers literally second-by-second updates of what was going on, provided by regular residents in the thick of the action. Certain Twitter accounts kept people completely up to date, and provided insights into the movements of the police that had never really been seen before. In addition to the live tweets, a Reddit user, tuned into the Watertown police scanner, posted continuous updates from what was heard throughout the night.

This was amazing for several reasons. Firstly, the speed at which the information was being released, from private citizens simply attempting to inform, was incredible. It was like watching the DVD commentary of a real-life version of an action movie. From a social media perspective, watching these select Twitter accounts grow in followers by the thousands every time I hit ‘refresh’ was almost as astonishing as anything they were tweeting.

Secondly, it was incredible how much more useful social media was in providing information to the public compared to more traditional methods. As I followed the live-tweeting and followed the police scanner, I turned on CNN to see what their coverage was like. Based on several factors, including the late hour this all happened, the impetus news outlets have to verify their facts before they release them, and the logistics of getting footage of a reporter from the scene onto air, resulted in CNN, and other TV news outlets being hopelessly behind their social media peers. This isn’t a condemnation of CNN by any means, but it did reveal that the future of news truly does appear to be digital.

While misinformation will always be a problem on social media, savvy navigators could figure out for the most part what was factual and what wasn’t. Cross checking with various Tweeters and the Reddit police scanner poster helped in determining a linear flow of what was occurring.

The same thing happened in Oklahoma, as reports, photos and videos of the devastating tornado began cropping up on Twitter and YouTube almost instantly. Those searching for loved ones also used social media after the fact in an attempt to track down anyone still unaccounted for. It also allowed various families to share the stories of the victims, helping the communities affected a way to pay respects and come together.
We have seen social media not only help in bringing people together, uniting them to a cause, offering pragmatic, physical ways of helping those in need, but also in helping report on the news in a way previously unseen.

There remains an important position on the media landscape for traditional news outlets. But I know that when the next major news event occurs, I’ll be turning on my computer before turning on my TV.