Reporters turn to blogs for shooting witnesses

Virginia Tech Police Officer BadgeJournalists flocked to students’ weblogs last night in search of eyewitnesses to a shooting massacre on a US college campus.

A guman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, before turning the weapon on himself in the worst such massacre in American history.

A number of blogs kept by the university’s student population provided harrowing first-hand testimony to the scenes on the university campus. One LiveJournal user, Paul, wrote how a student was hit by a bullet to her hand.

Ten years in to the evolution of the weblog, the medium has given individuals a voice with which to report their own personal stories. But the outpouring of reportage found in the blogosphere also gives professional reporters an opportunity to seek eyewitnesses for inclusion in news outlets with much larger audiences.

Within hours, reporters from around the world had scoured the blogosphere for first-hand accounts of the shooting, and found many student eyewitnesses to place on television, radio, print and the web.

“Sorry to hear about this,” Canadian CBC journalist Falice Chin wrote at Paul’s blog. “CBC Newsworld is doing live interviews with people who are affected by the shooting. Can you please drop me a line at when you have a moment? Thanks.”

Melissa Miller of the NPR public radio network added: “This account sounds horrific – I’m so sorry for you and your friends. I’m with NPR and if you feel comfortable speaking to the media please email me at mmiller at npr (dot) org. We are trying to get the full story out to our audience.”

Paul’s blog also saw interview requests from an MTV News producer, a Guardian writer, ABC News and from a Boston Herald reporter who “was wondering if blogging, MySpace, Facebook and Friendster are the best way to communicate while the phones are tangled”.

‘Live web” search services like Technorati and BlogPulse allow newsdesks to locate commentators on any issue. One photo editor sought pictures from a Flickr pool created for the incident. The breadth of approaches from big-name media suggests these tactics are becoming more common.

However, another blogger, Bryce Carter, who reported hearing gunshots at the university campus, subsequently wrote of his mixed emotions after his posts were picked up by Fox News: “Each time I hear something else, I get a brief moment of selfish joy before I am stabbed in the heart, realising that I deserve no credit and that lives are gone, destroyed and in pain.

“What is the significance of all this? My postings are simply what I always do, except I left my thoughts for the public instead of just my friends.”