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wavLength: August 3, 2007 Archive

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Citizen media cover bridge collapse

Posted at 8:05 AM on August 3, 2007 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)

Today's Future Tense (RealAudio - MP3 - iTunes) included conversations with Minnesota citizens who helped document the tragic 35W bridge collapse with their blogs, cameras, and cell phones. Here is a transcript of the segment:

The prevalence of video cameras, smart phones, laptop computers and other digital technologies in the hands of average people is challenging the notion that journalism is an exclusive club. The Minnesotans who documented Wednesday's collapse of the I-35W bridge proved again, just as in the aftermath of the London Underground bombing and other disasters, that journalism can be an activity as much as it is a profession.

The citizen media jumped into action immediately after the collapse, producing blog entries, uploading images and video to sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube, working alongside - and in conjunction with - the mainstream media.

Noah Kunin saw the bridge collapse up close from his home, which sits right at the the south end of the bridge. He rushed to the scene, helping in the rescue effort. He had the presence of mind to grab one item on his way out the door.

"My camera, luckily, was on the hook right by the door. I grabbed it cuz I knew it certainly was going to be a scene of investigation. And there was no guarantee there wasn't going to be further collapses. And I knew it was going to be really critically important to document as much as possible in case further collapses destroyed evidence."

Kunin didn't begin snapping photos until after it was clear he could do no more to help the victims. Authorities evacuated his building because it's so close to the bridge, so without his computer he relied on a friend to upload his photos to Flickr, where they've now been seen by thousands of people.

Photo by Noah Kunin

Like Kunin, Michael Shappe was close to the bridge . He was on a cruise with office mates aboard the Minneapolis Queen riverboat when the bridge came down. He whipped out his smartphone and began posting to his LiveJournal blog.

"A lot of people who know me read that live journal. so the fastest way by far to notify people that i was ok and that i had seen it was to post it to my live journal. My phone also has an instant messaging client so I got on there to reassure people as best as I could. My phone also also a couple of text messages back and forth."

Shappe says he was surprised he was able to blog and exchange messages on his cell, since voice traffic wasn't going through in the aftermath of the disaster.

"Responses started coming in, including from people that I didn't know -- friends of friends and so on who had been directed there. So I know that almost immediately people were seeing this including many of the people I wanted to know when they started to hear the news about this, Yes I'm ok."

Some people turned to Twitter for the "Are you OK" messages. Twitter is a service that lets people broadcast short text messages via cell phone, instant messagers and the Web to and friends. It's how Erica Mauter learned of the disaster.

"I have my phone in my pocket and it's buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, kind of going off pretty constantly. I flip it openand the first thing I read is 35W bridge over Minneapolis collapses. And I'm like, seriously? I honestly didn't believe it the first time I read it. And then seeing five more messages right way, that's crazy. It was kind of surreal. It was a very trippy way to find out, to get that information in the first place."

After the news sunk in, Mauter began writing about the bridge on a site she contributes to - Metroblogging Minneapolis.

"So I just kind watched the news for a few minutes to get the gist of what's going on. Kinda jotted down what I had picked up right away. Then a little bit later when I had the time to plop down in front of the TV with the laptop, just kinda started to catch the local news sites and a couple of other local blogs and just tried to gather as much information as I could. I mainly wanted to explain for people who might not live here kind of the gist of where the bridge is, just how big of a deal it really was."

Videoblogger Chuck Olsen was abouot the leave for Chicago when he learned about the bridge. An advocate of citizen journalism, Olsen rushed to the scene, shot some video and posted it to his "Minnesota Stories" site.

"I don't think we got anything that was all that different from what you would see on television, although it does feel different, I think the footage that I captured, because it is more first person, it's more raw, and it doesn't have anyone talking over it or sort of like commenting on what might have happened. Just sort of just the raw footage of what I saw when I got down there."

The idea of the citizen as journalist is becoming almost routine now - and will become even more so in the future, says Noah Kunin, the photographer who lives near the bridge.

"Media production is very much going to be the purview of everyone, and not because everyone wants to be famous for 15 minutes. That might be true, too, but in this situation I wasn't thinking about any of these things. It is the natural human position to A) help immediately, and the second this is to document and to story-tell."

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