CA Wildfires: Watershed Moment for Collaborative Online News?

Alex Miroshnichenko
Freelance photojournalist Alex Miroshnichenko is offering great fire coverage (and smart marketing of his skills) with Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr.

For the last few days at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, I’ve been blogging examples of innovative ways that online media is being used to cover the Southern CA wildfires. It’s been astonishing. There have been cool efforts from mainstream news orgs like SignOn San Diego and the Los Angeles Times and even FOX News.

But also, regular people and even some government officials have been using blogs, forums, mapping tools, social media sites, citizen journalism sites like NowPublic, media-sharing services like Flickr, and even Twitter to share news, information, updates, and assistance.

Personally, I think this is shaping up to be a watershed moment for online news. This time, it all seems to be coming together in a new way.

In particular, the collaborative tone of this content that strikes me as significant: map mashups, databases, forums, photo groups, social media, Twitter updates… You can really get a direct sense of how people fit into this story, what they’re doing, and what they want or need. It’s personal, diverse, detailed, and comprehensive.

This is a whole different concept of “news.” It’s becoming a verb, something you DO — not just a noun (a thing that you passively receive)….

In this case, I would go so far as to say that what average people are doing right now, especially with online and mobile media options, is as important (if not more important) than the coverage offered by mainstream journalism.

I’m not saying this shift doesn’t present significant questions regarding credibility, accuracy, ethics, information overload, relevance, etc. Yeah, there are problems. There always are with any major change. I’m not dismissing them.

Time will tell if this really is a watershed media moment. But if so, that would fit in with the history of news: Major public crises have always been magnets for media experimentation and innovation.

…Anyway, here’s my latest Tidbits post on this theme. Check out its sidebar for links to related coverage on, including Tidbits posts from the last few days.

Oh, and in my latest post I’ve asked Tidbits readers to help brainstorm about ways to implement live, accurate, hyperlocal maps and updates that would be useful to people on a streer-by-street level. If you have ideals about that, please comment over on Tidbits.

Thanks. And those of you in Southern CA, stay safe.

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