2,529 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
The tragic movie theater shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado last week grabbed headlines across the world. Major news organizations sent their top reporters to the scene of the late-night massacre to bring the story to the shocked nation the following morning. Before those reporters could get to Aurora, however, the events were already beginning to be reported on the social news site Reddit.
The shooting took place in a large theater with hundreds of witnesses. As soon as the violence ended, people turned to social media sites to document the event and to tell their friends and families they were safe.
One individual, who goes by the username Peener13, wrote on Reddit: “Someone came into our theater at the midnight release of Dark Knight Rises and began opening fire. Who here on Reddit can help me calm my nerves?” The post rose to the top the AskReddit section of the site and became a place for others to post their own reports of the shooting.
Another user, integ3r, turned the reports into a timeline, providing updates on everything from the number of victims to ambulances’ destinations. The timeline and the comments were not accurate all of the time, but they captured the confusion and despair surrounding the shooting. They also showed that in a world ruled by immediacy, crowdsourced news is becoming an accepted part of the media landscape.
Crowdsourcing news coverage is not a flawless process, and critics highlight the speculative nature of the reports, as well as crowds' ability to spread rumors. That happened over the last few days, too, when users tried to find the Facebook profile of the shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes. The search led them to a different individual with the same name, who began to receive messages and “friend” requests from those trying to find out more about the killer. It is impossible to deny, however, the speed and access to firsthand accounts that crowdsourcing brings with it. Crowdsourced news will not replace the “traditional” variety, but it does serve an important role that should not go unnoticed.
The redditors’ efforts also highlight the long tail concept. Crowds are only as helpful as the several most dedicated and knowledgeable individuals within them. It is these individuals’ great efforts, combined with social media’s megaphone effect, that make crowds successful. Without integ3r’s timeline, the comments would have been unclear and scattered; a lone user transformed the reports into a comprehensible blotter.
For all its faults, crowdsourcing is changing the way the news is being told by providing immediacy and access to eyewitness accounts. While it remains to be seen how organizations incorporate the trend into their reporting, greater availability of information is surely a positive development for news junkies.