At 8.56 am on September 11, a man called James posted the following: "Something very terrible just happened at the World Trade Centre. I think a plane crashed into the North-Western tower. It is horrible and stunning to look at." Two seconds later, at 8.58 am, someone called Mookie posted another: "TWO PLANES JUST CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTRE TOWERS!!!! I can see the smoke from my apartment windows." At 9:04 am, another message read: "The World Trade Centre is blowing up. I am really, really freaked out right now."
The messages were fast. They were furious. And they somehow managed to connect in ways CNN, the BBC and the New York Times never could.
This was cutting-edge journalism, without the journalists!
Blogger markets itself as 'push-button publishing for the people'. With very good reason, too. It offers just about anyone with a PC the power of instant communication, letting people like you and I post our thoughts online 'whenever the urge strikes'. The implications are tremendous. Think about it. The minute those two planes hit the WTC, the TV stations were all there, beaming footage to all corners of the globe. Reporters mouthed statistics in front of cameras, while behind them the buildings burned.
While most sat glued to their screens that morning, a few faced their monitors, reading about events as they happened through the eyes of those experiencing it.
There was Bob, a blogger who runs a page called the fine line. He was simply walking along that day, digital camera in tow, when things began to fall apart. "I looked back at the North Tower, then remembered the shouting about both towers being hit…From the ground, or looking at the pictures I was taking on my camera's LCD screen, I really couldn't see just how much damage had been done….What I didn't know at the time and only began to suspect later on was that the damage visible on the South Tower from my position was an 'exit wound'. Time seemed to stop as we all just stood there and watched as the wind pulled two enormous columns of smoke out flat and to the east". Punctuating each statement was a series of photographs, adding to Bob's personal story. It wasn't very polished, the way he had typed it all out. Nor did it carry with it the weight of authority that the reporters in blue suits seemed to. Worse still, some of the pictures were blurred. Why, then, did it come across as a lot more real?
There may be some sort of answer hidden in this post at a Yahoo! Group called MediaMentor: "Better make room for a growing cadre of amateurs who are sowing the seeds for new forms of journalism, public discourse, interactivity and online community. They're called Webloggers, or 'bloggers' and their sites (called blogs) consist of a running commentary with pointers to other sites."
Amateurs they may be, but not without skill. Will they replace news publications? Will news houses - those traditional keepers of public trust - fade away? Will journalists break free from the pressure of editorial policies and start their own blogs dispensing subjective capsules of 'the whole truth'? Who knows?
What I do know is that when a complete stranger puts up an unpunctuated message like "oh my god i just heard about the world trade centre and the pentagon i love you guys i miss you" at 8:36 am, it touches me somewhere a lot deeper than the place headlines like 'America Under Attack' manage to.
Blogs are popular for a number of practical reasons. They are unmediated, for one, which most big corporate-run news stations aren't. They put your thoughts up almost at once. And they accept feedback without too much of a fuss.
By 1.34 am on September 12, things had begun to move on. A blogger called -- appropriately, I thought -- dammit, had this to say: "So anyway, it's the end of the day and the news stations are still going strong. It's Scam's birthday today. Happy Birthday Scam."
Another day, another post. Life does go on, after all, offline or online.
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