Mumbai: Citizen Journalists Provide Glimpses Into Attacks
The following New York Times article comments on the merits of Citizen Journalism during the horrid moments of the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks. It only quotes the information as provided by Twitter. However, we have known the merits of Citizen Journalism long ago. In the Mumbai crisis we counted with the superb and flawless coverage of Now Public members and editors.
By BRIAN STELTER and NOAM COHEN, Published: November 29, 2008, From his terrace on Colaba Causeway in south Mumbai, Arun Shanbhag saw the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel burn. He saw ambulances leave the Nariman House. And he recorded every move on the Internet. Mr. Shanbhag, who lives in Boston but happened to be in Mumbai when the attacks began on Wednesday, described the gunfire on Twitter — the “thud, thud, thud” of shotguns and the short bursts of automatic weapons — and uploaded photos to his personal blog. Mr. Shanbhag, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said he had not heard the term citizen journalism until Thursday, but now he knows that is exactly what he was doing. “I felt I had a responsibility to share my view with the outside world,” Mr. Shanbhag said in an e-mail message on Saturday morning. The attacks in India served as another case study in how technology is transforming people into potential reporters, adding a new dimension to the news media. At the peak of the violence, more than one message per second with the word “Mumbai” in it was being posted onto Twitter, a short-message service that has evolved from an oddity to a full-fledged news platform in just two years. Those descriptions and others on Web sites and photo-sharing sites served as a chaotic but critically important link among people across the world — whether they be Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn tracking the fate of a rabbi held hostage at the Nariman House or students in Britain with loved ones back in India or people hanging on every twist and turn in the standoff while visiting relatives for Thanksgiving dinner. “When you look at TV, you see one channel at a time, then you go to another channel,” said Dina Mehta, an ethnographer and social media consultant in Mumbai. “On Twitter, you get feeds from many different people at the same time.” The content produced by citizen journalists also avoided some of the bureaucratic headaches that media organizations faced. At the end of the day on Friday, CNN’s license to transmit live video in India expired, forcing the network’s correspondents to report via telephone. CNN and other channels in the United States relied on live coverage and taped reports from Indian networks. The cameras and phones carried by people swept up in the attacks were not subject to any such rules. Mr. Shanbhag photographed one of the fires at the Taj hotel and the wreckage outside a popular cafe that was attacked on Wednesday. Some people transmitted video from inside the Taj hotel to news networks via cellphones. And reporters used cellphones to send text messages to hotel guests who had set up barricades in their rooms. Much of this activity flourished early in the crisis, while there was a vacuum of official information either from government sources or from mainstream media outlets still struggling to understand the extent of the attacks. Sreenath Sreenivasan, the dean of student affairs and a professor at the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, said, “A little bit of information is better than no information at all.” For a small segment of the Lubavitch Hasidic community in the United States, Twitter became a way to follow the fate of their rabbi, Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife, Rivka, and their son, who were being held hostage in Mumbai. “I relied on Twitter heavily,” said Mordechai Lightstone, 24, a freelance journalist and Lubavitcher with a Twitter account. “As a person interested in what is going on over there, it gets frustrating when the news cycles on itself.” Mr. Lightstone said that only a week or so ago he persuaded the leaders of his community to use Twitter as a publishing tool. He has been running that Twitter account, as well as his own. Reading Mr. Lightstone’s posts, as well as those of another Lubavitcher, Reuven Fischer, gave a glimpse into a community fearing for one of its own but wanting to remain hopeful about its mission. Mr. Lightstone wrote, “This is pure hearsay, but I was told that the shlucha was rescued — again this unsubstantiated #chabad #mumbai,” using the Yiddish word for the rabbi’s wife and marking keywords with pound signs so that the post would be easier to find in a search of Twitter. As the news that the rabbi and his wife had been killed emerged, and the Sabbath approached, Mr. Lightstone and Mr. Fischer took pains to temper their sadness with the joy of the day of rest. Mr. Fischer wrote, “We should Honor Shabbos with joy this week. We can mourn after Shabbos doing Mitzvot in honor of ALL effected by this tragedy.” Though traditional in dress and beliefs, Lubavitchers pride themselves on harnessing all of the available tools to spread their teachings.
“We are not afraid of using the world to further our goal and tasks,” Mr. Lightstone said. “It’s really amazing, sitting in a basement in Brooklyn, we are all sharing a common goal, looking for good news, staying in touch.”
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