IT’S hard to believe that for the much of the first decade of the 21st Century, social media had limited impact.
However, the internet did allow for global communication and instant transfer of source material – if you can get it from them, to newsrooms.
When the Iraq War started the team at the Sunderland Echo knew a huge number of young people from our city would be serving. We set up a shoebox campaign ‘Tonic for the Troops‘ (see bottom of this story; only reference I could find on interweb) which meant families – who were at the time paying huge amounts to send welfare packages to their ill equipped loved ones – could send a package for free.
In all around 5,000 packages were collected. Some were for individual soldiers from their families, others were from school children and church groups with letters and pictures to soldiers they had never met.
In each of those packages there was a copy of the Sunderland Echo and a personal letter asking soldiers to send contact us with pictures or messages to their family via email.
And they did. From pictures of them holding their copy of the paper, to thank you letters to those who sent their packages, and messages of love to their families; we received a great deal of direct source content which gave a local slant to our Iraq war coverage.
As the war continued we also received letters from the parents of servicemen who had lost their lives, thanking them for sending the parcels. This gave the opportunity for sit down interviews with the loved ones of some of the first fallen.
The campaign therefore achieved three key things. It gave a direct link to servicemen in Iraq; it provided human stories which put a local face to an international event; and it showed we cared.
In our age of social media -now the transition from gatekeeper to gatewatcher is complete (Bruns 2009) – it is difficult to imagine that physical contact with a human being linked to a Middle East war zone could provide the principle place for newsgathering for a regional journalist.
After a decade of perpetual war, a campaign such as this would not have the same impact and post Bradley Manning’s direct contact between active servicemen and journalists – even in terms of sending messages to loved ones – could be seen as dangerous practice.
However, digital technology and social media has afforded the source of content from war zones to shift. Direct information from citizen journalists is providing a huge amount of direct primary source material which is accessible and searchable in seconds.
My next post will examine how this has transformed the role of the mainstream journalist through the lens of how and whether we can verify citizen journalism from Syria as an example of current Middle East conflict.