Posts Tagged ‘Citizen Journalism’

Mumbai, You’re Not Forgotten

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

It’s been three months since the Mumbai attack and it feels like the incident has already slipped into the amnesiac conscience of society.

Not for those who lost their loved ones. Not for those who lost their city.

I think about the fear that paralyzed many of us as we watched Mumbai fall prey to vicious minds. About those mind-numbing three days.

My city had been under siege for sixty agonizing hours. Sitting at my computer, 8,700 miles away in the US, I watched in horror — helpless — as Mumbai was ravaged and scarred beyond recognition.

A friend had been shot. Brave friends risked their lives and made their way towards the terror scene to ensure his safety. I stared disbelievingly at my computer screen trying to make sense of the chaos. Where were all my family and friends? Were they okay?

Almost mechanically, I started dialing. I had done this before. On numerous occasions. The riots, the floods, the curfews… I was a seasoned Mumbaiite.

How many times had I visited Cafe Leopold for lazy conversations over greasy food and cheap beer? How many times had I walked by the Taj hotel, marveling at its majesty and grandeur each time I saw the iconic structure? How many times had I frequented South Mumbai for a reunion with friends, a good bargain and even a quick getaway? It let you disappear into the anonymity of the busy, carefree streets of Colaba — and emerge, rejuvenated. How could anyone think of destroying Mumbai? A million questions ran through my head — and I had no answers.

My city was being held hostage and I was helpless. Television channels in the US had just begun to cover the news but it wasn’t enough. I knew there was more going on because I was getting frantic text messages and calls from friends back in Mumbai. It was then that I turned to the Social Web — and never looked back.

I sat glued to Twitter and Monitter for those sixty gruelling hours, clicking every link, every news story, every picture — and every list of the injured and the dead — praying fervently as I scanned the names. Photographers like Vinukumar Ranganathan from Mumbai constantly updated Flickr with photographs of what was happening on the ground. Websites and blogs like Global Voices and Mumbai MetBlogs were putting up real-time information with helpline numbers, emergency contact information and even providing a forum for people to reach their loved ones with news of their safety. Twitter was an excellent source of real-time information that night.

Dina Mehta, a Mumbai-based blogger and social media consultant says: “We had a list of injured people — an illegible fax — and after tweeting that we needed help transcribing it, we were flooded with offers to help from all over the world.”

It was reaffirmation. Of hope. Of humanity.

The voices that emerged that night were real.

Of fear:

“Sirens outside my window. Can hear blasts and gun shots. Please make it a safe night.”

Of mind-numbing truths:

“Bomb blasts in Bombay as we speak.
Phones jammed. Can’t reach my family.
I’ve gone through this before.
Not panicking.”

Of hope:

“We didn’t feel alone anymore or scared. Fellow tweeters worldwide were experiencing and sharing in our pain and our anger during the prolonged siege.”

Of strength:

“And the firing still goes on outside, in batches of 4-5 rounds. As I am writing this, there are sirens of vehicles, police vehicles echoing in my ear… Only unity can fight this.”

Thousands of miles away, I held on to each voice of hope, tenaciously, for three gruelling days, praying for the safety of Mumbai.

I had never felt closer to my city.

Thank you to each one of you who tweeted, posted pictures and blogged amidst the terror, confusion and pain.

Social media, networking and citizen journalism were terms I use often as a social media advocate. But on the night of November 26, 2008, the social web had turned into something far more important for me:

A lifeline.

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Regular people. Everyday tools. An influential voice.

Five years ago, Dan Gillmor chronicled the rise of an emerging social movement called citizen journalism in his book, ‘We the Media.’ The Internet was being used to disseminate information and it had changed the way we created and received news. Technology had given the ordinary man the tools to become a journalist, one with power—and global reach.

“The rise of the citizen journalist will help us listen. The ability of anyone to make the news will give new voice to people who’ve felt voiceless—and whose words we need to hear. They are showing all of us—citizen, journalist, newsmaker—new ways of talking, of learning.”

I recently read Gillmor’s book for a class assignment. I had read his book before. This time, however, it struck close to home. This time, I had witnessed first-hand what citizen journalism was all about.

The Mumbai attack was proof for me.

When India’s financial capital was under siege for 60 agonizing hours late last year, people around the globe turned not to the television or the radio for news, but to each other. Blogs and social networking sites like Twitter and Flickr buzzed with eyewitness accounts.

Photographers from Mumbai constantly updated Flickr with photographs of what was happening on the ground. Websites and blogs like Global Voices and Mumbai MetBlogs were putting up real-time information with helpline numbers, emergency contact information and even providing a forum for people to reach their loved ones with news of their safety. Twitter was an excellent source of real-time information during those grueling hours.

For information-starved people frantically trying to reach family and friends in Mumbai, while simultaneously struggling to process the impact of the situation, the social web had turned into a powerful force – one that traditional media could not compete with.

The voices that emerged that night were real. For me, it was citizen journalism at its best.

As I re-read Gillmor’s predictions for what news would look like in the future – in light of the Mumbai attacks – I was amazed at how accurately he had described what citizen journalism would look like today. “News was being produced by regular people who had something to say and show.”

Five years ago, Dan Gillmor was on to something. He had been right.

The lines had blurred.

The consumer was now the producer.

And yes, the ordinary man was writing the ‘first draft of history.’

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