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Citizen Journalism and Japan: 3 Insights on How News Has Evolved

I’m happy to say I’ve never experienced an earthquake, but thanks to citizen journalism and technology, that’s changed. Somewhat.

Were you as amazed as I was when the horrific earthquake struck Japan and people there had the mental wherewithal to reach for their phones and other gadgets to record video?

Most of you know I am a trained news reporter and news director.  I must admit I’m not sure  I would have done the same if I were in that earthquake. 

One of the few “neat” things coming out of Japan is how everyday citizens documented their experience in real-time and posted video on social channels.  This is the first disaster to be recorded and then distributed through Twitter and social sites.  

How did all of this really begin?  I spoke with the person dubbed “the most famous citizen journalist of modern times.” 

The man who changed the way the news is reported — and propelled Twitter to the front line of breaking news —is Janis Krums (pronounced Yanis Krooms). Two years ago, he snapped a picture of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 sitting in the Hudson River on a frigid January day. Who can forget the hero  “Captain Sulley” and the 155 passengers who were rescued. 

I interviewed Krums about his ”Miracle on the Hudson” experience. He was on a ferry to New Jersey when the plane went down. As the ferry embarked on the scene to help, Krums saw other passengers taking pictures with their cell phones.  He thought he should, too. He humbly told me it’s not his picture that changed the perception and use of social media and citizen journalism; it’s the fact that he tweeted it. 

Here are three lessons and insights from Krums about the evolution of social and traditional media. We’ve seen these with the news from Japan:     

1. Citizen journalists will always be at the right place at the right time with the right tools. The difference is they must have the skill to use them. Once something is happening, it’s too late to be learning the tools. I had the tools to spread the message and knew how to use them. If you have the ability to spread the message, you have the power.

2. News will be reported, no matter what. The way it’s being reported is continuing to evolve. Traditional journalists will always be second on the scene from now on, especially in the developed world. That’s because more people have i-Phones, smart phones, and video capability.

3. Traditional media is evolving. The tools that were used before are just not going to be used in the future. I think journalists are embracing social media. They are just figuring out what’s going to stick in the next five years.

Krums says he didn’t send his photo to any news reporters or media outlets. He simply tweeted it to his 200 followers and it spread like wildfire.  ”At that moment, I saw the value in what it was, but I didn’t see the value of what it could become. I don’t think anyone could see that it could be spread around the world the way it was.”

Prayers and blessings to the people in Japan.






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