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Citizen Journalism Response

Page history last edited by Steve Escher 15 years, 2 months ago



People watching and documenting rescue operations shortly after the 35W Bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. The photographer, Eric Brandt, posted this photo on Flickr along with hundreds of others taken by citizen journalists reporting the disaster.


Photo by Eric Brandt. Creative Commons License: Attribution–Share Alike 2.0 Generic


The 35W Bridge collapse and citizen journalism  


An important story within the story of the 35W Bridge collapse is Web 2.0 technology and citizen journalism. Hundreds of individuals, who were either on the scene when the bridge fell or arrived immediately afterwards, documented the event with digital technology for photography and video, and cell phones. Using Web 2.0 applications, they published images, news reports and personal reactions to the collapse of the bridge en masse on the Internet. News, information and personal accounts generated by ordinary citizens published outside the mainstream media were a significant component of all media coverage of the event.


Citizen reporting on the 35W Bridge is one example of a growing movement in journalism catalyzed by Web 2.0 technology. The second generation of Web technology and applications make it possible for anyone with a digital camera and Internet access to be a journalist. Social networking and image sharing sites like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, as well as blogs, wikis, and discussion forums enable ordinary citizens to publish their own reports, commentary, photos, video, analysis, and opinions about newsworthy events. Given the tremendous popularity of Web 2.0 technology, citizen journalism has rapidly grown into a common journalistic practice.


The response to major news events in the last decade demonstrated the unique advantages of citizen journalism. Thousands of ordinary citizens equipped with digital cameras, cell phones, Internet access, and Web 2.0 technical savvy spread the news and shared their experiences quickly and efficiently outside the centralized structure of mainstream media. To take advantage of this vast pool of resources, most traditional media organizations now routinely employ Web 2.0 technologies for processes that enable amateur and professional journalists to collaborate in producing news and information.


The public response to the 35W Bridge collapse extended the trend of citizen journalism and demonstrated the unique advantages of the practice.


  • In some ways, citizens outperformed professional journalists. Unconstrained by the centralized structure of traditional new processes, citizen journalists who happened to be near the bridge when it fell provided eyewitness reports and captured unique images of the scene in the immediate aftermath. They also disseminated news and information in real time and produced more reporting than the small number of professional journalists dispatched by traditional news organizations.

  • Publishing by countless citizens on Flickr, YouTube, blogs, discussion forums, and mainstream media contributed to a massive public record covering all aspects of the disaster. Citizen journalism enriched the record with compelling first-person accounts, a broader diversity of perspectives and more comprehensive coverage overall.

  • By using interactive Web 2.0 technology, citizen journalism engaged people in and published conversation on important public issues.

  • As happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, citizen journalists and Web 2.0 technology assisted rescue and recovery operations by providing alternative means of communication, public service announcements for blood donation and other volunteer services, rapid dissemination of news and information to the community, and evidence for the investigations that followed.



Background Information: Citizen Journalism


What is citizen journalism


History of citizen journalism in the U.S.


Web 2 Technology and Citizen Journalism



I-35W Bridge Collapse I-35W Bridge Collapse(2)

Photo by Shannon Klug.

Creative Commons License: Attribution–Noncommercial–No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

Photo by Jeffrey Long.

Creative Commons License: Attribution–Noncommercial–No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic


Citizen journalism on the 35W Bridge collapse                              

Citizen journalism played a significant role in the reponse to the collapse of the 35W Bridge. Average citizens took the initiative in breaking the news, publishing important information and timely reports on the rescue and recovery efforts. In the weeks following the collapse, many discussed political aspects of the disaster and technical issues related to the design and maintenance of the bridge as well as public policy. The majority of citizen journalists however, personal reactions and reflections, photos and video on the disaster. After August, citizen journalism on the event declined rapidly. A few citizen journalists have continued to publish reports on the investigations into the cause of the collapse, victim's compensation, political issues and public policy on transportation infrastructure. 


Reporting by citizen journalists took many forms:

  • individuals generating content independently and publishing it on blogs and social networking sites like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook or MySpace
  • blogging on traditional blogs or microblogs like Twitter
  • participating in online discussion forums
  • contributing reports to independent citizen media organizations, local or nonlocal
  • establishing and contributing to wikis
  • contributing photos, video, first-person accounts, facts, opinion, etc., to traditional news media


Examples of coverage by independent citizen media

One of the challenges of independent citizen journalism is simply finding the work [1]. The sources of citizen journalism are as varied as its practices and the work is distributed widely across the Internet on blogs, mainstream media sites, YouTube, Flickr, etc. At this stage, services that aggregate citizen journalism across brands, blogs and tools are insufficient. Consequently, a survey of independent citizen journalism such as this one is bound to be incomplete. Hopefully, the following examples are representative of the diversity of content produced by individuals and citizen media organizations.



Local citizen media organizations


The Uptake.org

The UpTake is a media and technology services organization dedicated to advancing democracy through citizen journalism. It recently opened an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


• Examples of The UpTake’s reports on the 35W Bridge:

Oberstar Demands 35W Bridge Collapse Hearing—Rips Into NTSB Chairman

NTSB Dissent Reveals Multiple Possible Causes Of 35W Bridge Collapse

Minnesota Bridges Crumble From Neglect And Cheap Bolts

No Transportation Fix for Minnesota



MNSpeak is an open forum for discussion on topics of local interest including politics, the arts, sports, business, neighborhoods, music, etc. Discussions about various aspects of the 35W Bridge collapse took place on MNSpeak.


• Examples of MNSpeak discussions on the 35W Bridge:

I35w Bridge Collapses

Politics in Minnesota 8.27.07

The Blame Game

Photos 10.08.07: Photographer's car that fell from I35W bridge

Politics in Minnesota 12.21.2007: Rybak, Dolan emails deride sheriff's 35W bridge video

Local News 01.08.08: I-35W bridge survivors go online to make case for compensation


Minnesota Stories

Minnesota Stories is a daily citizen's videoblog for news on Minnesota produced by local blogger and filmmaker, Chuck Olsen.


• Video on Minnesota Stories:

Olsen, Chuck. “35W Bridge Collapse.” MNStories.com. 1 August 2007.



The Northeast Beat is a grassroots, independent website that offers news and information on Northeast Minneapolis produced by a small group of volunteer bloggers and citizen journalists from the neighborhood. The site posted an article by Dan Haugen on the impact of the bridge collapse on area businesses, “Northeast shops still struggle with I-35W traffic issues.”


Twin Cities IndyMedia Center

The Twin Cities IndyMedia Center is the local chapter of the international independent media organization, Indymedia. Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and journalists offering grassroots news and information.


In addition to a brief report of the bridge collapse, most contributors wrote about political aspects of the disaster or opinion pieces such as this one by the Communist Party, “Minneapolis Communists on Bridge Collapse.” 



Local bloggers on the bridge collapse: A sampling of writing on the bridge collapse  




  • Erica Mauter:

    35W Bridge Collapse.” 1 August 2007 @ 6:57 p.m.

    This posting includes links to news reports in mainstream and independent media including work by local citizen journalists. It also provides updates.

    35W Bridge: Links Roundup.” 6 August 2007.

    This posting reviews links to news and information on different aspects of the collapse. 

    35W Bridge: Links Roundup #2.” 10 August 2007.

    This is a review consisting of links to information on different aspects of the collapse.

    Found photo.” 8 October 2007.

    Mauter posts a photo of the car owned by one of bridge victims who survived the collapse.

  • Greg. “Live Footage of Bridge Collapse.” 2 August 2007.

    This posting has live footage of bridge collapse captured on a security camera and hourly updates. 

  • minn_sarah “35W Collapse: Traffic Changes.” 2 August 2007.

    The posting provides traffic information from the City of Minneapolis.

  • minn_sarah “35W Fundraiser Alert.” 24 August 2007.
  • Greg. “I-35W Bridge collapse findings released.” 18 March 2008.

    This posting reports on updates to the NTSB investigation on the bridge collapse.


Independent bloggers


  • Aaron Landry

    Interstate 35W Bridge Collapse.” 1 August 2007.

    Landry makes a brief report on thecollapse that mentions his personal connection to possible victims.

    Interviewing Noah Kunin and Britt Bakken.” 3 August 2007.

    This posting is an interview with citizen journalists who rescued victims and reported the bridge collapse.

  • Noah Kunin, Blanked-Out.

    Blog postings on the I-35W Bridge by citizen journalist, Noah Kunin. Kunin lived a few yards from the bridge; he helped rescue victims and documented the scene of the collapse.

  • Edward Morrissey. “Pray for the Twin Cities.” CaptainsQuartersBlog. 1 August, 2007.

    Morrissey posts hourly updates on developments and media coverage of the bridge collapse.

  • Tom Elko. “35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapses in Minneapolis.” The Sky Blue Waters Report. 1 August 2007.

    Elko posts photos and provides updates.

  • Jason Weidemann. “Citizen journalism and the collapse of the I-35W bridge.” fiveoclockbot.com. 2 August 2007.

    Weidemann reflects on the surreal aftermath of the collapse and reviews citizen journalism on the events. 

  • The Kosmala blog. “Catastrophies and Technology.” 2 August, 2007.

    The author talks about joining Facebook to communicate with younger neighbors. He also comments on number of calls from traditional news media for citizen’s stories and images of the bridge collapse.


  • Bill Lindeke. “Interstate bridge of the week: 35W Mississippi River bridge.” TCSidewalks. 1 August 2007.

    Lindeke reports facts and writes his personal reflections on the bridge tragedy.

  • Dan. “I35W Bridge Collapse.” scenes from a wasted life. 1 August 2007.

    The author ommente on media coverage and writes his personal reactions to the disaster.

  • Red Cross volunteer. “It’s the moments when time stands still.” 2 August 2007.

    A volunteer recounts her experience working for the Red Cross in the aftermath of the bridge collapse. 

  • Rob Dubinski. “I 35W news coverage.” 7 August 2007.

    The author reports on media coverage of the bridge collapse. He notes that the story received the 4th most media coverage of all stories for 2007.



Local bloggers on nonlocal blogs



Blogging on the bridge collapse on the national political blog DailyKos.com represent some of the political analysis that began immediately after event.



BlogHer is the premier guide to blogs by women. Every blogger is invited to list her blog and share her latest words, pictures, video and opinions.



  • Wiki on I-35W Bridge collapse by MattJhsn

    MattJhsn posted his own wiki about the bridge collapse on 3 August 2007. The wiki includes links to content generated by citizen journalists (blog postings, photos) and a list of authors who posted photos of the event on Flickr. 

  • e-Democracy wiki on I-35W Bridge collapse

    The local discussion forum, e-democracy.org, developed a wiki with news and information on the bridge collapse.



Nonlocal independent citizen media: A sampling of content on the bridge collapse


Associated Content

Associated Content is a platform for news, information and opinion that lets anyone publish original text, video, audio or images on any topic.

It published a number of reports, photos, and opinion pieces on the the collapse of the 35W Bridge.


• Examples of Associated Content articles:

Erlandson, Sven. "The 35W bridge, 9/11, and the hope in historic inevitability.” AssociatedContent.com. 13 August 2007.

Ojala, Todd. “Minnesotastan: The newest third world country?AssociatedContent.com. 5 September 2007.

Bender, Dan. “Minneapolis Bridge Collapse.” (Slideshow) AssociatedContent.com. 13 August 2007.



NowPublic is a participitory news network that gathers work by citizen journalists who generate content published on the site. The site published 13 articles including photos and video on the collapse of the 35W Bridge.


• Examples of NowPublic articles:

Ryan. “Bridge collapses on Minnesota highway.” NowPublic.com. 2 August 2007.

Boone, Beth. “Red Cross chapter serves as focal point of response.” NowPublic.com. 4 August 2007.


NowPublic also published 87 photos of the bridge collapse taken by citizen journalists.



Wikinews is a participatory platform for news written collaboratively by members. A search for "35W Bridge" yields 6 articles on the bridge collapse published between 1 and 21 August 2007.


• Examples of Wikinews articles:

Highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapses.” Wikinews.org. 2 August 2007.

Last missing body from Minnesota bridge collapse found.”Wikinews.org. 21 August 2007.



Newsvine is a hybrid news service that publishes news from established media organizations like the Associated Press and ESPN as well as individual contributors from all around the world. Members participate by recommending stories, seed and contribute to discussions on stories, and exercising editorial judgement over the publication and ranking of content.


A search for “35W Bridge” returns 105 articles published on Newsvine that include reports by established media and members, many of which are accompanied by commentary from readers.


Examples of 35W Bridge-related content:


Fark.com is a news aggregator and an edited social networking news site that receives 2,000 or so news submissions from its readership. Members contributed to a discussion thread on the bridge collapse shortly after the news broke. Participants shared reports on the disaster, posted photos and offered political analysis and opinion.



NewsCloud is a site for sharing news and a platform for members to post stories, rate and share comments on other's contributions. One member posted a link to a posting about the collapse of the bridge on the blog site, “35W bridge downed by design flaw; infrastructure issues fade from headlines.” Scholars&Rogues.com. 18 January 2008. 



Social Networking Sites

Members of social networking sites published their own reports on the bridge collapse, posted photos and video and provided links to news produced by mainstream media organizations. They also formed groups used to discuss political aspects of the disaster and to express their condolences and support for victim's and their families.


  • Facebook

    Facebook members formed 130 groups about the bridge collapse. Membership in the groups range from 20 to over 3,000. The largest group, A Minnesota Catastrophe - The Collapse of the 35W Bridge 8/1/07 has 9,051 members. As of May 2008, the group has 640 comments posted in its discussion forum the majority of which were contributed in August and September 2007. Approximately 23 messages were posted in the next seven months, including spam.


  • MySpace

    Although no one formed groups about the bridge collapse, hundreds of members wrote about the disaster in MySpace blogs. A search for “35W bridge” returns 631 results from member’s blogs. Many other contributed visual content to the site. A search on the tag “35W” on MySpaceTV returns approximately 45 results for multimedia content contributed by members. Many postings are original video and photos taken by MySpace members. The content on MySpace is similar to that on Facebook including news reports, original or links to other sources, condolences and support for victims and personal reactions.


    • Examples of MySpace videos on the 35W Bridge:

    35W Bridge Clip.” This video documents some of the clean-up operations two weeks after the bridge collapsed.

    I-35 bridge demolition.” This video documents the demolition of some of the bridge remains.


  • Photo and video sharing sites


    • Flickr, Picasa, YouTube: Please see the sections below for examples of citizen photo- and video journalism.
    • OurMedia.org

      OurMedia is a nonprofit website for sharing photos, video, podcasts, and writing. The site posted the video “35W Bridge Collapse” by local vlogger, Chuck Olsen. It also had a link to  a music show dedicated to the victims of the bridge collapse.




It’s 3am and I still can't sleep ... I was with my friend Scott driving southbound on 35W when this happened. ... Suddenly you could feel the ground tremble, a huge cloud of dust rose from the road about 100 yards ahead of us. I asked Scott if it was a bomb. You could see the road shifting ahead of us. Everyone began getting out of their cars, confused but knowing something was drastically wrong.

The twin cities is bisected by two major rivers. I cross multiple bridges everyday. The river is one of the city’s most beautiful attributes, yet here in 2007 the river claimed an unknown number of lives, with no warning or clear reason. As the Mississippi continues it's thirsty voyage south, it unknowingly carries several tons of faulty engineering and human lives with it. How does this happen in a civilized city of millions? How does a major artery of the city simply fail, with no apparent foreword or reason? And how did I evade death by mere minutes?

Menning, Megan. (2007, 2 August). a witness’ account. Message posted to http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4193673812,  archived at http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=4193673812&topic=3918

Photo taken by citizen journalist and posted on an article about the I-35W Bridge collapse published on Wikinews.

Photo by Tomruen.
































Impact of citizen journalism on the 35W Bridge collapse

The impact of citizen journalism on the response to the collapse of the bridge was significant. Citizen journalists provided breaking news, eye-witness reports, and unique, high-quality visual documentation. Their work enriched the public record of the disaster with broader coverage and a greater diversity of perspectives on one of the most important news stories in 2007 [2]. In addition to reporting the news, citizen journalists provided other important community services. Their work assisted rescue and recovery efforts, alternative channels of communication, and mobilized support for victims and their families. Citizen journalist also opened or contributed to community conversations on why the bridge collapse, the political aspect of the disaster and public policy related to transportation and other public infrastructure.



Immediate response

Citizens responded to the bridge collapse immediately, publishing reports through Twitter, discussion threads, blogs, and uploading images to Flickr and YouTube. Citizen journalists were the first to be on the scene and report the collapse [3]. The rapid response by citizen journalists became a national news item in and of itself.



Reports of the bridge collapse appeared within minutes on Twitter.com. A message from blogger Aaron Landry appeared on Twitter prior to reports published by local MSM such as the Minneapolis newspaper, StarTribune


Mark Glaser, a journalist for National Public Radio noted in his blog, MediaShift on PBS.org, that Twitter was the first to announce the bridge collapse. He included the Twitter messager in his list of the year’s 10 “MediaShifting” moments—events that had the greatest impact on the direction of the media industry. “Twitter becomes important news platform when bridge collapses. The micro-blogging tool Twitter lets people send brief text messages to friends and colleagues about what they’re doing at any given moment. That casual tool became an important way that news was first disseminated when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Later, news organizations such as KPBS in San Diego relied on Twitter to get news out about the wildfires when the station couldn’t broadcast on the radio and its website went down [4].”


Posted August 1, 2007


The bridge over the Mississippi River. At least 4 fatalities, several still missing. News from: WCCO, KARE 11, Pioneer Press. Information from: City of Minneapolis, Twin Cities Red Cross. Thursday Twins game postponed.



Lots of wild speculation on the various channels. Can't wait for some more "official" word to come out.

»» Submitted by »»» s4xton at 7:52 PM on August 1

MPR reports.
KARE11 reports.
Jason is on the scene, reporting.
»» Submitted by »»» msparber at 7:50 PM on August 1

I hope everyone is safe. I hope for the best for those out there. This all just looks so sureal. Be well all.
»» Submitted by David Foureyes at 7:59 PM on August 1

Cell phone companies are asking people to avoid unnecessary phone calls as the system is overloaded.
»» Submitted by »»» kwatt at 8:04 PM on August 1
Sparber, Max. (2007, 1 August). I35W Bridge Collapses. Archived at http://www.mnspeak.com/mnspeak/archive/post-3594.cfm
































Discussion Forums

Within moments of the collapse, the editor of MNSpeak.com, Max Sparber, opened a discussion thread on the bridge. The thread provided an ongoing account of developments in the aftermath of the bridge collapse, first-person accounts, links to other news sources, and reported the status of other participants involved in the collective of citizen reporters. A similar discussion thread on the bridge collapse appeared on Metafilter, another community Weblog and forum for discussion.



Thirteen minutes after the collapse, local bloggers began posting eye-witness reports:


Flickr, Picasa, YouTube

Photos and video from eye-witnesses began appearing on Flickr, Picasa and YouTube within a few hours of the bridge collapse. A participant on the MNSpeak discussion thread about the collapse reported “First pictures on flickr »» Submitted by »»» mcgsa at 8:42 PM on August 1.”


Examples of photos and video posted shortly after the bridge fell:



A page about the bridge collapse appeared on Wikipedia three and half hours after the bridge fell [5]. A participant in the 1 August MNSpeak discussion on the bridge reported the creation of the Wikipedia page.


Wikis and Wired

E-Democracy, a local pioneer in using digital technology to engage citizens in politics, posted a wiki page on the morning of 2 August 2007 with news and information on the bridge collapse. 


Wired.com blogger, Joe Brown, summarized breaking news and information appearing on the Internet via Web 2.0 applications like Wikepedia, Flickr, YouTube and blogs [6].



Established significant visual record of bridge collapse

Visual documentation of the bridge collapse by citizen journalists was prolific. On 4 August 2007, local blogger and Internet marketing expert, Dave Erickson, documented links to more than 30 different sites on Flickr or Picasa containing photos taken by individuals on the scene immediately after the bridge collapse [7]. Erickson also surveyed video produced by citizen reporters and noted that, “As of this writing, among the most viewed videos at YouTube are a Bridge Collapse slideshow (52,739 views), news coverage of the collapse (33,252), and the musical tribute (25,785) [8].”


• Examples of YouTube video by citizens

Minneapolis bridge collapse - view from water.”

Minneapolis 35W Bridge Collapse Raw Video.”

I-35W Bridge Collapse minneapolis minnesota.”


The photos and video by citizens on Flickr and YouTube are likely the largest single archives of images documenting the bridge collapse. Months after the collapse of the bridge, a search for “Minneapolis bridge” on YouTube.com returns 675 results and 390 results for a search for “35W bridge.” While many of these are video shot by MSM, there are examples shot by amateurs. A search on Flickr for “35W bridge” returns 6450 results.


Citizen journalists also published their work on less well-known services for visual content.

  • NoComment News.com is a news service comprised exclusively of photos. It features pictures from eye-witnesses to events that occurred in the last 24 hours.NoComment News.com posted a collection of photos of the bridge collapse, “Minneapolis I-35W Bridge Collapse,” submitted by users.
  • A collection of bridge-related video shot by citizens appeared on Mefeedia.com, a service for publishing and sharing digital video. The collections include work by citizen journalists from The Uptake and Minnesota Stories as well as user-generated content on blip.tv and copies of MSM reports.


Unique value of citizen’s photos

The National Transportation and Safety Board reviewed photos of the 35W Bridge taken months before the collapse by citizen Troy Whaley. His photos provided clear images of the gusset plates that were determined to be the cause of the bridge failure by the NTSB. A local TV channel broadcast a report on Whaley's photos of the gusset plates being used as evidence in the official investigation [9].


Several citizen journalists were eye-witnesses to the collapse while others arrived shortly after the bridge fell. They were able to access and document the scene in the immediate aftermath the area was sealed off by police. As a result, these journalist's photos are unique.


Examples of unique photography by citizen journalists:


Noah Kunin Sharing Photos  

Local citizen journalis, Noah Kunin, speaking with journalist about the I-35W Bridge collapse.

Photo by Aaron Landry. Creative Commons License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Excerpt from a story by Jon Gordon broadcast on his radio show, FutureTense, that featured interviews with citizen journalists who reported the I-35W Bridge collapse.

Gordon, Jon. (2007, 3 August). Citizen media cover bridge collapse. Wavelength. Retrieved from http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/wavlength/archive/2007/08/


Citizen journalism prominent in news by traditional media

Traditional media at the local, national and international level actively solicited photos, videos and stories from citizen journalists. User generated content became an important component of the news on the bridge collapse produced by newspapers, TV news programs and online news organizations.


The Associated Press

The Associated Press used 66 citizen’s photos of the bridge collapse, including some from NowPublic, a citizen’s media organization. They also sourced photos from Flickr and Facebook. (See the section “Photos and video advance citizen journalism” for more on citizen’s photojournalism and the Associated Press.)


The New York Times

The New York Times invited readers to share their comments on news of the bridge collapse on 2 August 2007 and received 554 comments.



CNN, MSNBC, and ABC News online featured content provided by citizens in their reports on the disaster.


  • CNN published user-generated photos online immediately after the bridge fell as did You Witness News (a partnership between Reuters and Yahoo!) that went to MSNBC.com outlets [10]. The company’s report on 2 August 2007, “I-Reporters capture first images of Minneapolis bridge collapse ,” includes photos and an eye-witness account by a neighborhood resident, Mark LaCroix. CNN also provided slideshows with photos submitted by amateur photographer, Andrew Worrall, a recent high school graduate, who used his used his school press credentials to access and photograph the scene of the bridge collapse beyond the police barricade.
  • MSNBC published a video shot by a witness, Cole Naymark, only 5 minutes after the bridge fell and compiled a gallery of photos and video submitted by readers.
  • ABC News “i-Caught” program posted photos taken by a victim whose car fell into the river with

    the bridge. 


ABC posted the following call for images by citizen journalists on the blog of local citizen journalist, Eric Mauter.

“ABC News in New York would like to extend an opportunity for your videos to air on our program and be posted on our website. If you have recorded any video or taken still pictures of the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whether they be from shortly after it happened or of the aftermath recovery phase, send them to us! We’re asking you to be a part of ABC’s i-CAUGHT! Your reporting could be a part of ABC News.


It’s easy! Here’s HOW: ABC News is specifically requesting 15-45 second video comments or photos.



1) Via cell phone: Record a clip and email it to: icaught@abcnews.go.com

2) Via the web: http://abcnews.go.com/icaught/BeSeenBeHeard/story?id=3437892

We look forward to hearing from you & thanks again for your participation. Should you have any questions about this project, email us back at talkback@abcnews.go.com.


The ABC News “Talk Back” Team”

Grantham, Ewan. (2007, 2 August). Message posted to http://minneapolis.metblogs.com/2007/08/01/35w-bridge-collapse/

British news media

British news media integrated user-generated content with their coverage of the bridge collapse.

The BBC published an story comprised of first-person accounts and a slideshow of photos submitted by readers on 2 August 2007. Dave Batty, a writer for NewsBlog on The Guardian Unlimited, reported on citizen journalism coverage of the event in an entry titled, “Minneapolis bridge collapse: eyewitness accounts.”


Local newspapers

The local newspapers, St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis StarTribune, collaborated extensively with citizen journalists to report on the collapse of the bridge. The papers created guest books to offer sympathy and condolences to the victim’s and their families, posted photo galleries: StarTribune, Pioneer Press, hosted discussions, and provided opportunities for reader commentary and debate.


Both the StarTribune’s transportation blog and hyperlocal news project, Buzz.mn, became important sources for information and debate related to the bridge collapse [11].


The StarTribune also developed a video presentation for its website, “13 seconds in August,” that requests help from viewers in identifying the owners and drivers of vehicles on the collapsed bridge. The video ends with a still photo of vehicles left on the bridge deck. Numbers linked to vehicles provide information about the owner or driver. The caption reads, “This is a living document and we encourage you to send us your reactions and thoughts, and help fill in the missing pieces.”


Local TV news

Local TV stations, KSTP TV and WCCO TV, featured content in the form of pictures, video and eye-witness accounts by citizens:

Incredible still photos coming from tragedy.”

Home video: Up close look at bridge wreckage.”

Web extra: Viewer video immediately following collapse.”


Local independent news media

Local independent news media based on hybrid forms of journalism published many reports on the bridge collapse as well.
The Twin Cities Daily Planet is a community newswire and syndication service showcasing the work of the neighborhood and community presses, work by independent journalists and citizens. The DailyPlanet has given various aspects of the bridge collapse extensive coverage.


The MinnesotaMonitor, an independent online news daily funded by the nonprofit Center for Independent Media, covered numerous aspects of the bridge collapse in reports written by a coalition of bloggers, freelance writers, and professional journalists.
• Examples of MinnesotaMonitor stories on the bridge collapse:
Bridges by the numbers.”
35W roundup: Tons of material parked on bridge, other projects may face delays.”
Plaintiffs seek compensation for Bridge collapse, but who’s to blame remains unclear.”



MPR and Citizen Journalism

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) collaborated more extensively with citizens than any other mainstream media (MSM) organization in reporting on the 35W Bridge collapse. This section discusses the MPR's collaborative work with citizen journalists to gather information and report the story on the bridge disaster.



Provided crisis communication

Citizen journalism served a dual purpose: providing news and information as well as a channel for crisis communication. It provided a valuable community service that supported the emergency response effort. Reporting by citizens, whether it was on Twitter or blogs, put out calls for volunteer services and provided an alternative means of communication.


The microblogging service,Twitter, as well as text and instant messaging served as a “breaking news alert system” and critical channels of communication when lines for cell phones were overloaded [12].


Using blogs and wikis, citizen journalists published community service announcements calling for blood donation and eye-witnesses, announcements about free wireless access to emergency responders and blocked cell phone lines, and links to important sources of news, information and emergency services. The wiki created by e-democracy.org, for example, provided links to the Red Cross, blood donation centers, traffic information, links to MSM reports, and other information. 


The nascent city-wide WiFi service in Minneapolis assisted the emergency response effort by contributing free Internet access to emergency workers to supplement oeverloaded communications systems [13], [14].




can be looked at as
an application
of the

wisdom of crowds

concept, in which the

knowledge and talents

of a group of people

is leveraged to create

content and solve




James Surowiecki on the concept of crowdsourcing.


• How did you discover the wisdom of crowds?
The idea really came out of my writing on how markets work. Markets are made up of diverse people with different levels of information and intelligence, and yet when you put all those people together and they start buying and selling, they come up with generally intelligent decisions ...
• Could you define “the crowd?”
A "crowd," in the sense that I use the word in the book, is really any group of people who can act collectively to make decisions and solve problems. So, on the one hand, big organizations—like a company or a government agency—count as crowds. And so do small groups, like a team of scientists working on a problem. But just as interested—maybe even more interested—in groups that aren't really aware themselves as groups, like bettors on a horse race or investors in the stock market. They make up crowds, too, because they're collectively producing a solution to a complicated problem ...
• Under what circumstances is the crowd smarter?
There are four key qualities that make a crowd smart. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd's answer. It needs a way of summarizing people's opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.

Catone, Josh. (2007, 22 March). Crowdsourcing: A Million Heads is Better than One. Retrieved from http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/crowdsourcing_million_heads.php

James Surowiecki originated the concept of crowdsourcing and wrote, The Wisdom of Crowds, the seminal work on the topic.


Random House. (2004). Q & A with James Surowiecki. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.com/features/wisdomofcrowds/Q&A.html







































Leveraged crowd-sourcing

By collaborating with citizen journalists, the media, emergency responders, and government organizations leveraged crowd-sourcing to improve their response to the disaster. The work of citizen journalists also enriched the historical record of the event [15].


The activity of citizen journalists demonstrated the potential for Web 2.0 technology in emergency response work. W. David Stephenson, a homeland security and 2.0 technology researcher, noted in his blog that 2.0 technology, and wikis in particular, leveraged the power of crowd-sourcing to support emergency response efforts after the tsunami in South Asia, Hurricane Katrina, the London subway bombing and now the 35W bridge collapse [16]. A security trainer based in Europe is also using the 35W Bridge to exemplify the utility of Web 2.0 applications in crisis communication [17].”


The efforts of many citizen reporters taking photos, video and writing reports contributed to far broader coverage of the bridge collapse than would have been produced by traditional news media alone. Often relying on just a few journalists to cover such an event, mainstream news organizations employ too few resources to generate a diversity of perspectives. Having the work distributed across large numbers of independent reporters, results in citizen journalism “ … contributing bits and pieces of the story to create a far richer and more comprehensive picture than a single reporter could hope to provide [18].”


Citizens equipped with cell phones, computers, and Internet access became a new kind of first responder. Documenting the scence of the disaster in pictures and video and setting up networks that provided crucial channels of communication and information to the public, provided invaluable assistance to emergency workers. (See also “Stumbling into a life-and-death situation” on MPR.org.)


The NTSB obtained evidence for its investigation into the collapse in the form of eye witness accounts, photos and video taken by citizens on the scene [19].


By harnessing the distributed knowledge of many diverse citizens, collaborative projects like MNSpeak.com, Flickr, YouTube, and Wikipedia developed important records of the bridge collapse. They collected facts and perspectives on the event that may not have been reported otherwise. The archive of photos and video on Flickr and YouTube are probably the largest single archives of visual records on the bridge collapse.



Personal, first-person perspective on bridge collapse

Many of the reports posted by citizen journalists were more personal and emotional in nature. While it may be argued that such accounts do not qualify as true journalism, they do offer an alternative perspective that is generally absent in traditional journalism that emphasizes neutrality and “objectivity.” [20], [21]


On the other hand, the unedited style of eye-witness reports, photography and video lent a degree of authenticity to citizen’s work that one rarely sees in the tightly controlled and polished work by the MSM. According to Chuck Olsen, a prominent local citizen journalist and video blogger, the feel is an important distinguishing feature of citizen’s work. “I don't think we got anything that was all that different from what you would see on television, although it does feel different, I think the footage that I captured, because it is more first person, it's more raw, and it doesn't have anyone talking over it or sort of like commenting on what might have happened. Just sort of just the raw footage of what I saw when I got down there [22].”


Examples of personal accounts


The I-35W Bridge Collapse, One Month Later
Interstate 35W Collapse
Photo by Eric Brandt. Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Photo by Noah Kunin. Creative Commons License: Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Photos and video advance citizen journalism

The quantity and quality of photos and video taken by amateurs raised the visibility and credibility of citizen journalism.


Local blogger and media observer, Peter Bihr, states that the bridge collapse raised the profile of citizen journalism and praises local bloggers for their coverage of the event. He also comments on the attention local blogger and citizen journalist Aaron Landry received, noting that he was “ … interviewed by Fox News, Time, Pioneer Press, MSNBC, Wikinews, American Public Media, ENR.com and others today about his posting of Noah Kunin’s photos on Flickr and liveblogging from within the “danger zone” [23].”


Julio Ojeda-Zapata, a journalist for the St. Paul newspaper Pioneer Press, observed that there were hundreds of “onlookers” using a wide variety of technology from high-end cameras to pocketcams and cell phones to document and report the event. According to Chuck Olsen, a prominent video blogger from the Twin Cities, citizen's work on the bridge collapse was “ … a seminal local moment in “citizen journalism,” when ordinary people worked alongside big media outlets to document a major news event [24].” Ojeda-Zapata adds that the “ … raw content quickly found its way onto personal blogs and media-sharing sites, such as Flickr and YouTube, on Wednesday. By Thursday, some of it had rocketed to online superstardom, courtesy of links on top national sites and blogs such as Boing Boing [25].”


As in the case of the South Asia tsunami, the London subway bombing and Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of the 35W Bridge demonstrated that citizen journalists are particularly effective in covering breaking news. They were the first journalists on the scene and captured more unique images as a result. The quantity and even the quality of photography and video by citizen journalists rivaled that produced by professionals. “The prevalence of video cameras, smart phones, laptop computers and other digital technologies in the hands of average people is challenging the notion that journalism is an exclusive club. The Minnesotans who documented Wednesday's collapse of the I-35W bridge proved again, just as in the aftermath of the London Underground bombing and other disasters, that journalism can be an activity as much as it is a profession [26].”


Given the success of citizen journalism in breaking significant stories like the subway bombing in London, user-generated content is now a staple in news produced by traditional media. Lou Ferrara, the deputy managing editor for new media at The Associated Press, argues that photojournalism by citizens is particularly important. He  observes that citizen images are now an expected element of news on major events. “ … the Minnesota bridge collapse demonstrated how citizen journalism can, at times, be plentiful and help tell the story. In all, the AP acquired 89 citizen images of the bridge collapse and 16 minutes of video. … the bridge collapse provided the most citizen journalism thus far, showing that ubiquitous phone cameras will actually yield content important to news organizations. Though the citizen contributions were only a fraction of the AP’s overall report in video and photos in Minnesota, they provided details, angles and images we wouldn’t have otherwise had [27].”



More information on the impact of citizen journalism on the I-35W Bridge collapse




References: Role of Citizen Journalism in I-35W Bridge Collapse


  1. Outing, Steve. (2005, 21 July). Is There Hope for Citizen Reporting? Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=85742
  2. Jurkowitz, Mark. (n.d.) Minnesota Disaster One of the Top Stories of Year. PEJ News Coverage Index: 29 July-3 August 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.journalism.org/node/6911
  3. Erickson, David. (2007, 4 August). Minneapolis bridge collapse and citizen journalism. Retrieved fromhttp://www.e-strategyblog.com/2007/08/minneapolis-bri.html
  4. Glaser, Mark. (2007, 21 December). Year in Review: 10 MediaShifting Moments of 2007. Mediashift. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/12/year_in_review10_mediashifting.html
  5. Erickson, David. (2007, 4 August). Minneapolis bridge collapse and citizen journalism. Retrieved from  http://www.e-strategyblog.com/2007/08/minneapolis-bri.html
  6. Brown, Joe. (2007, 2 August). Internet Reactions to the 35W Bridge Collapse. Autotopia. Retrieved from http://blog.wired.com/cars/2007/08/internet-reacti.html
  7. Erickson, David. (2007, 4 August). Minneapolis bridge collapse and citizen journalism. Retrieved from http://www.e-strategyblog.com/2007/08/minneapolis-bri.html
  8. Ibid., Erickson.
  9. McNaney, Bob. (2008, 1 February). Twin Cities man's photos show 35W bridge gusset plates. Retrieved from http://kstp.com/article/stories/S332875.shtml
  10. Lang, Daryl. (2007, September). CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Part Disaster Photos, Part UFOs. Photo District News, 27(9).
  11. Erickson, David. (2007, 4 August). Minneapolis bridge collapse and citizen journalism. Retrieved from http://www.e-strategyblog.com/2007/08/minneapolis-bri.html
  12. Ibid., Erickson.
  13. Thibodeau, Patrick. (2007, 3 August). New Wi-Fi network proves critical in Minneapolis bridge. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9028978&source=rss_topic15
  14. Farstad, James. (2007, 6 August). Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Provides Early Test of Wi-Fi Network w2i Digital Cities. Retrieved from http://w2i.com/resource_center/the_w2i_report__weekly_newsletter/news/p/newsletterId_/id_122
  15. Niles, Robert. (2007, 31 July). A journalist’s guide to crowd sourcing. Online Journalism Review. Retrieved from http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/070731niles/
  16. Stephenson, W. David. (2007, 3 August). I-35W wiki: another great crowdsourcing example! Retrieved from http://stephensonstrategies.com/2007/08/03/i-35w-wiki-another-great-crowdsourcing-example/
  17. Borremans, Philippe. (2008, 7 February). Using social media for crisis communications. Retrieved from http://www.conversationblog.com/journal/2008/2/7/using-social-media-for-crisis-communications.html
  18. Erickson, David. (2007, 7 August). More thoughts about citizen media during the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Retrieved from http://www.e-strategyblog.com/2007/08/more-thoughts-a.html
  19. Stephenson, David W. (2007, 6 August). Boston Globe article: tech-savvy citizen first responders. Retrieved from  http://stephensonstrategies.com/2007/08/06/boston-globe-article-tech-savvy-citizen-first-responders/
  20. Amy, Gahran. (2005, 3 August). Can First-Person Accounts Be Journalism? Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=86534
  21. Erickson, David. (2007, 4 August). Minneapolis bridge collapse and citizen journalism. Retrieved from http://www.e-strategyblog.com/2007/08/minneapolis-bri.html
  22. Gordon, Jon. (2007, 3 August). Citizen media cover bridge collapse. Wavelength. Retrieved from http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/wavlength/archive/2007/08/
  23. Bihr, Peter. (2008, 3 August). Minneapolis Bridge Collapse: New Media Quickly Provide Information. Retrieved from http://www.thewavingcat.com/2007/08/03/minneapolis-bridge-collapse-new-media-provide-information-quick/
  24. Ojeda-Zapata, Julio. (2007, 3 August). Cameras in Hand, Citizens Take Over: Witnesses to the I-35W Bridge Collapse Post the News Online. Pioneer Press. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1022153/cameras_in_hand_citizens_take_over_witnesses_to_the_i35w/index.html
  25. Ibid., Ojeda-Zapata.
  26. Gordon, Jon. (2007, 3 August). Citizen media cover bridge collapse. Wavelength. Retrieved from


  27. Ferrara, Lou. (2007, 3 October). CITIZEN IMAGES FROM MAJOR NEWS events are no longer a possibility. They are an expectation. The American Editor. Retrieved from http://tae.asne.org/Default.aspx?grm2id=144&tabid=65




Interviews/Quotes with Local Citizen Journalists

Here we hope to have blocks of quotes/interviews (conducted by us) from local journalists Chuck Olson, Noah Kunin and Aaron Landry.  Still to come.



Comments (2)

volm0004@... said

at 5:38 pm on Mar 9, 2008

I was just wondering if you guys were planning on talking about the support videos that were put on YouTube by citizen journalists? I was thinking of linking back here if you were.


Sara McDonnell said

at 8:45 pm on Mar 9, 2008

Yes. I mentioned them in Section III.

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