4 16 07

When I first visited the Newseum as it opened in the Spring of 2008, I was kind of surprised that, historically speaking, the most recent news item that was covered in the New Media arena was the tragic event that happened at Virginia Tech in April of 2007.

However, as I’ve thought about it more over the last two years, I think that this will be moment in mass media history on which the entire culture of participatory media can be explained. For anyone who doubts the ability of social media to drive a personal, citizen focused story, this event will be the thing to which many of the Digital Native generation will point.

It will be always a challenge for me to forget the horrific events of that day – even though I was nowhere near Blacksburg when it occurred. The reason? Because the story went far deeper than what the traditional mouthpieces of media reported. The dimension created by the immensely personal nature of on the scene videos and instant reactions ultimately changed the story – and media forever.

You see, by hearing from those voices directly – and first – it made the tragedy more than an insulated event at Virginia Tech. It made people on college campuses across the country (where I happened to be at the time I first heard) realize that the name of the school and academic building were incidental. For the first time, the channels my generation had been connecting on for a handful of years became where we also congregated as the collective zeitgeist of young people.

It was the first time Facebook profile pictures became platforms for advocacy, support as photos were flipped out for images like the one above and “Today, we are all Hokies.” Videos and tributes (like this one) weren’t reserved to only traditional news outlets.

There have been events in the past few months in which we have applauded how the culture of participatory media was able to spread a story. But, luckily, those were consumer-misguidings (like Motrin or Dominos) or averted disasters (Flight 1549). The personal emotion that came through two years ago will add to a story that we will never forget – and it will be the chapter one case study on what participatory media brings to the table.


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