New technology and tragedies

United 93, instead of becoming a weapon in terrorists’ hands that would have struck at America’s heart, become a symbol of heroism and resistance.  And the reason that happened was because of the cell phone.  Passengers on board the flight were able to gain information and assess risk thanks to the information they received through their phones.

Another tragedy, although thankfully not one of such great dimensions, brought to Ocean Guy’s attention the fact that the  new technology means that every single person can become a news source, with pooled information having the potential to be much more accurate and swiftly assembled than anything the MSM can achieve.  His daughter and her friends, all USC students, were at his home when that terrible fire took place.  The young women were, of course, desperate for information:

Not all of the reports were accurate, and it took a while for the stories to come together… 6 missing, 7 missing, 6 dead, 4 got out… the first few minutes were confused, but the information kept flowing. Their network of friends were getting the story out through their cell phones and blackberries. We checked online and at first found nothing… nothing on the TV news either. Then, about noon, we got the first Google hits returning a basic outline of the story. But the girls were craving information and we were all frustrated at how slowly it was trickling out… their cell phone network was so much faster and surprisingly reliable.

As the girls pieced together the story and discovered the names of some of the victims, one of the old gatekeepers of the news, the AP was reporting that it would be several days before the names would be released. But through cell phones and IM’s and facebook, the story and names were already widely known.

(You can read the rest here.)

Clearly, this new media cannot replace the old media, because it conveys the news only to those who have connections.  That is, I couldn’t have linked into this network with any intelligence, nor would I have been able to interpret any data I might have received.

However, his story does emphasize the fact that the old media is no longer the sole guardian of information.  It is still a useful and, indeed, necessary clearinghouse for information, but it now must team with the people on the spot, or the people who know someone on the spot, to ensure story speed and accuracy.

The new technology also places on the old media the very difficult task of determining which citizen reporters are accurate and honest, and which are not.  And as to that, given the various media scandals that have arisen when the old media was relying on its own people, one does worry how the old media will cope with yet another challenge to determining source veracity.


4 Responses

  1. If the media would simply preface remarks with:

    “Remember that early reports are often wrong! Our unconfirmed early reports indicate that…” to reflect reportage from people whose trustworthiness cannot be confirmed.


    “Some trusted sources are indicating that…” on reportage from people who’ve been reliable in the past.

    Unfortunately, the common masses follow the hype more than they follow prudence. That tendency towards National Enquiresque luridity, and the endless 24-7 nature of the news, distorts what we see and hear.

  2. Mike is spot on. Watching those young women communicate and tap into a network that was expanding exponentially was impressive. I was most impressed by their sophistication in weighing the reports and handling all the different information they were getting one text message at a time.

    The MSM tries to maintain an air of infallibility… that is, they shroud themselves with a mask of infallibility that very few of us recognize. We all know that the news is almost never 100% correct, let alone infallible. Those in the media may fool themselves but not us.

    Just as there are unreliable journalists, there are unreliable “reporters” using the new technology… but the existence of that technology has dramatically changed the way we can spread the news. The MSM has been slow to adapt to the new reality and have put too much energy toward trying to exploit it commercially. But that’s another matter.

    Once again, watching my daughter and her friends handle life gives me great comfort our future… the world will be in good hands, if we can manage to give them something worth keeping.

  3. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article United 93, media    Sphere: Related Content Trackback URL Please vote for Webloggin at the Weblog Awards by clicking on this link here, searching for the word “Webloggin” and clicking on the + sign. No registration required. […]

  4. The first problem the old media has to address is which of them – not the “citizen reporters,” but THEM – are capable of being accurate and honest. Particularly in matters political.

    As the recent Rush Limbaugh kerfuffle quite plainly demonstrates: not many.

    Clean up your own house first, boys: then worry about the rest of us.

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