Can Citizen Journalism Move Beyond Crisis Reporting?

Trevor Knoblich | | June 9, 2013

The aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings demonstrated yet another significant marker for citizen journalism. Felix Salmon, in an excellent post on the Reuters blog, wrote that the manhunt for a suspect in the bombings “in many ways represented the first fully interactive news story.” The crisis again demonstrated the value — and risks — of citizen reporting via social media.

Citizen reporters broke much of the news, though they still needed broadcast media to help spread it. In some cases, citizens were able to capture iconic photos of events. Others were able to tell compelling stories about how the emergency affected their lives, including obeying the “stay in place” request by government officials during the manhunt. It has been widely reported how quickly social communities also got information wrong, including falsely accusing suspects. But I’ve seen a nearly equal number of reports showing how quickly these communities were able to self-correct their own misinformation.

There are plenty of examples of news outlets reaching out to citizens in the wake of a rapid-onset, large-scale crisis to tap into this data. The Boston Marathon bombings were no exception. NBC, for example, used Instagram photos to illustrate how creepy Boston’s empty streets appeared during the manhunt for one of the suspects.