Monday April 20, 2015 marked the 117th annual Boston Marathon race. A select group of the fastest and most qualified runners from around the world joined together to run a total of 26.2 miles. It was just 2 years ago that a tragedy struck the event and left a lasting impact on the runners’ lives. There is no better feeling than crossing the finish line, especially after the long endurance challenge that each marathon runner experiences. However, unlike the triumphant and glorious feeling of crossing the finish line, the runners were instead surprised by two bombs that were set off at the finish line. Hundreds of runners were left wounded and few even lost their lives. Immediately, the bombs changed the beautiful, sunny afternoon to a scene of panic and tragedy.
Throughout all of the chaos of the event, many spectators took the initiative to film and capture the tragic event on their cameras and mobile devices. This type of media engagement can be considered a form of “citizen journalism”. Citizen journalism, also known as participatory, user-generated, community journalism, is basically the act of normal, everyday citizens engaging in media and publishing their work to inform the rest of the world. The actions of citizen journalists are defined by the phrase, “You See it, You Report it”. The citizen journalists during the Boston Marathon bombing played an active role in the manhunt to find the bombers. Boundless amounts of pictures and video footage from the race resurfaced and investigators sorted through all kinds of digital media for evidence. Reddit users posted pictures of possible bombers for the entire nation to view.
Citizen journalism, like all forms of media engagement, also has its pros & cons. In the Boston Bombing case, the negative impact of citizen journalists was that they identified many false allegations of the Boston bomber. The wrongly accused bombers received lots of scrutiny and attention in the media, ultimately damaging their reputations and putting their lives at risk in some cases. Whether or not the accused bombers were the real culprits, the evidence and pictures from citizen journalists could be interpreted in many different ways. Although, in the end, citizen journalists played a critical role in revealing evidence of the actual Boston bombers. Without the help from citizen journalists, many cases throughout history would probably still be left unanswered.
As a citizen do you think it is our civic duty to report or publish information in times of crisis?
A roundtable discussion at Harvard University’s Department of Journalism: Nieman focuses on the growing impact of social media, especially in times of national crisis, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.