Tag Archives: gatecrashing

Blunders in Citizen Journalism: the cost of gatecrashing in aftermath of Sandy Hook Massacre

With great power comes great responsibility. Jay Rosen was correct in describing citizen journalism as what occurs “[w]hen the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another,” and every day it grows more apparent that the paradigm of gatekeeping has shifted. Technological and social development have enabled us to employ those tools, and citizen journalism is here to stay.

However, with the sudden and drastic rise in its scope, exercise, and influence, we must remind ourselves that what we “report” as citizen journalists, especially when spoken in chorus with others, can have a very tangible and often serious effects.The propagation of misinformation  by acting citizen journalists in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, which transcended the usual confines of Reddit news and eventually received coverage from traditional media sources, exemplifies the nascent power–and potential for misuse–of citizen journalism.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012 was, without a doubt, one of the most tragically heartbreaking events in recent American history.  The deaths of twenty first-graders and six school faculty, at the hands of a single disturbed gunman, stunned the nation and shook the collective soul of the American public to a degree of profundity eclipsing even the Columbine High School or Aurora theater shootings, and perhaps matched only by Timothy Mcveigh’s 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

With the nation reeling in despondence, confusion, and anger in the wake of the slaughter,  citizens around the country began a furious, self-accelerating collective search for answers. It was with intent to assist law-enforcement investigations and inform others that they coordinated online in the forums of news publications and on popular websites of user-submitted news and content, the most consequential of which would prove to be  Reddit.

While rampant speculation and countless conspiracy theories abounded across the online world,  one of these stories would gain enormous traction–eventually picked up by mainstream news outlets like CNN– and end up having very real consequences, damaging Reddit’s credibility (and by translation, that of citizen journalism) and nearly ruining the life of an innocent man.

In the first few days following the massacre, contributors to “the front page of the internet” mistakenly named the perpetrator of the shooting as Ryan Lanza, brother of the actual shooter Adam Lanza. Ryan, who was working and nowhere near New Town during the shootings, was named as the Sandy Hook shooter on mainstream national broadcast. Powerless to protest his innocence, Ryan was subjected to the unbridled fury of a grieving nation, receiving thousands of personal threats via social media platforms. Only after law enforcement exonerated Ryan did the media realize its mistake and momentum behind the gatecrashing finally begin to dissipate.

This debacle demonstrated just how quickly crowdsourced information can become “mob-sourced.” An even more frightening, or at the very least consequential realization from the incident was that citizen journalism, if driven by vehemence and recklessness, is capable–if even just for a day or two– of influencing and informing traditional media, reversing earlier conceptions of the relationship between the press and the public and turning the conventional conception of gatekeeping on its head.

That revelation is hugely consequential; with great power comes great responsibility. We now know that the power of citizen journalism can emulate that of the professional journalist; the question now is how do we get citizen journalism to emulate the professional journalist’s sense of responsibility, as well?

Citizen Journalism and Mergers

Comcast acquired Time Warner Cable this past Thursday for $45 billion.  They are predicted, if all goes as planned and the merger is approved by the federal government, to serve 1 out of every 3 homes in the United States (CNN: Gross).  Many news stations have been covering the new acquisition, and users of social media sites definitely have put in their opinions without hesitation.

CNN’s article titled “What a Comcast-Time Warner deal could mean for you,” written yesterday, summarizes the buyout as well as analyzing the new horizons of possibility for Comcast and Time Warner customers.  One way they look at this subject is using sub-headers such as “Would my bill go up?” and “What about service quality?” that go into what the upcoming changes are to the customers of these service providers.  The author of this article definitely is a gatekeeper, in choosing what topics he finds are important to share with the public, like how the new acquisition will change their service options for the worse, or the better (if you were a Time Warner user).

Social media also allowed many people to vocalize their opinions of this merger.  As social media goes, I will focus on people’s reaction via Twitter.  On a website page called “People Generally Just Really Hate Their Cable Companies,” many consumers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable show their obvious hatred of the merger.  One tweet reads “Comcast / Time Warner merger is like a merger between swine flu and the bubonic plague” (Mashable: Gerhard Stiene) while another tweet reads “Prediction: the Comcast/Time Warner merger talks will be slow, freeze a bunch of times, and eventually have to be restarted.” (Mashable: Matt Goldich).  These tweets, along with the rest of the 23 that are provided on the website are proof that “gatecrashing” is at play here.  Gatecrashing is a phenomenon in which users find other channels, rather than the regular gatekeeping channels, to publicize certain news or opinions.  This website, Mashable.com, provides a place that is not a traditional news outlet for consumers to share what they really think of events that occur.

As goes for this article paired with this user-generated content-style website, I think that they are mutually reinforcing each other.  In the article, it tries to be as objective as possible, but leans towards the acquisition being somewhat problematic for consumers of the individual service providers.  The website contains 23 tweets that show those consumers’ hatred of the new merger.  The article states that, “[w]henever there are mergers of two large customer-service providers…we tend to see quite a few problems…We’d be surprised if a new hybrid Comcast-Time Warner doesn’t produce a lower level of customer satisfaction for a year or two” (CNN: David VanAmberg).  This view is widely held by all of the people who posted tweets concerning the new merger- they feel it will be a terrible endeavor as customers to either one of these service providers.  This viewpoint is definitely apparent in the tweets as well as a slight bias in the news article.

A challenge that is presented by the twitter feeds of multiple people is accuracy.  The tweets presented by unhappy customers of Time Warner and Comcast only show their opinions about the merger or their predictions, not the solid facts of the case like you see in the article on CNN. Though the viewpoints of the article and tweets somewhat coincide, the article on CNN is definitely more informative to consumers.

Sources Cited:

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/tech/web/comcast-time-warner-consumer-impact/

Mashable: http://mashable.com/2014/02/13/comcast-time-warner-cable-tweets/

The Impact of Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism has started to take over all forms of media. By using outlets such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and Four Square, ordinary people now have the power to spread information quickly and nearly effortlessly. While this impacts our culture in many ways, this new trend has completely changed the way we get our information. For example, important news stories and major events are often publicized or even revealed on Twitter. A perfect example is when an ordinary person, Jim Hanrahan, first broke the news about the airplane that landed in the Hudson River in 2008. Before any professional news source reported on the incredible landing, Hanrahan tweeted, “I just watched a plane crash in the hudson.” From there, obviously the story exploded over the news but this is just one of many examples where the news was first revealed on Twitter by a “citizen journalist”

This new way to report on and receive information is changing the face of news media as we know it. I think this type of journalism would definitely be categorized as “gatewatching” as well as “gatecrashing.” It is “gatewatching” because these citizen journalist are publishing or posting everything and anything, regardless of its “newsworthiness.” It is also “gatecrashing” because it engages in the sharing of content, which is extremely conducive to Twitter. “Gatekeepers,” on the other hand, typically are more active about what they publish and post. This category is reserved for the professional journalists and therefore does not really relate to this kind of media. These forces are mutually reinforcing because they can all work off each other. For example, with the airplane-landing story, it was broken on Twitter, where ordinary people as well as news sources then “shared” it constantly and finally, professional news sources wrote the proficient, full-length stories.

A major challenge dealing with gatewatching, gatecrashing, and gatekeeping is assuring accuracy. Like previously mentioned, citizen journalists can post and share whatever information they want, true or false. This information can spread like wild fire with little hope for quelling false rumors. This is a difficult challenge to overcome considering the vast resources available to the average person. Mostly, I think people have to be aware of where they are getting their information and always double and triple check facts.