Colorado Shootings Details Reported Best in Early Hours by Teenager on Reddit

In the early hours of the morning last Friday, professional journalists were rushing to cover the timeline of a mass shooting that had happened inside an Aurora, Colorado movie theater the night before. Local and national newspapers and television stations scrambled to present breaking news to the public -- but one person had already spent hours providing up-to-the-moment information about the tragedy.

It wasn't a well-known journalist or even a junior reporter. The best early coverage of the Aurora shootings was provided by Morgan Jones, an 18-year-old Reddit user.

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Jones says he was up late playing the video game Oblivion when he saw a disturbing Facebook update from a local television station:

I get updates from 9 News on Facebook, and I get a comment that says 'we're investigating shootings at a movie theater.'

Jones, who goes by the user name Integ3r on Reddit, began posting a minute-by-minute update on the story. What is truly amazing about Jones' citizen journalism -- which grew far beyond Reddit's character limit and overflowed into three additional posts -- is that he managed to combine traditional media reports, police scanner information, social media updates, and other Reddit posts into what would become a cohesive narrative of the tragedy.

Sitting at home in front of his computer, 18-year-old Morgan Jones's coverage of the shootings in real-time was surely the most comprehensive account of events that was available during those early hours. In fact, reporters began looking to the Reddit posts in order to report what Jones had already aggregated.

Jones didn't just scrape the news, hit "paste," and move on -- he corrected old information, addressed questions from other users, and speedily provided updates throughout the night. He says it's the Reddit community's own demand for transparency that influenced the way he chose to share data that night:

I don't delete things and replace them with something else. I do a strike through and put what [latest information] I have below it so it gives people an idea of how it's changing. So it's transparent. People will put up with minor inaccuracies because they know someone will call them out and change it.

I'm sure there are plenty of media organizations who bemoan the fact that anyone with Internet access can call themselves a journalist nowadays. In fact, CNN's own Howard Kurtz has already weighed in on what he perceives as the downsides of Jones bypassing the "editorial process":

A lot of stuff that he was putting up there was absolutely inaccurate, and it was real-time, yes, and it was raw, and it was on the spot, but it was inaccurate in many cases, and that’s the problem of this kind of form of journalism.

Sure, because traditional media is never inaccurate, right? Wasn't it, in fact, CNN who infamously biffed the Supreme Court healthcare ruling last month?

I agree that the rush to be FIRST! in news coverage inevitably leads to error, but unlike CNN, Reddit seems to have the right idea: cover what you can, allow citizens to contribute to the news along the way, and publicly correct any mistakes. Instead of discounting the actions of a kid with a Reddit account, media outlets should wake up and take note -- because what Morgan Jones did last week just may be the future of journalism.

What do you think about news being reported on sites like Reddit? Would you ignore that information in favor of more traditionally-presented information, or do you think web-based citizen journalism provides its own value?


Image courtesy of Morgan Jones

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