"That's the great power of the mobile phone," says Chris Harper, codirector of the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab at Temple University. "Everybody has them, they're ubiquitous. And while the video quality isn't up to professional standards sometimes, people don't care because the immediacy is overwhelming."
Morgan Jones, 18, of Denver, was staying up late playing the video game Oblivion when he saw a Facebook alert about the shootings from local TV station 9News. Jones went on reddit, a website on which users post stories and other users vote them up or down, moving them up or down a "thread," or chain of comments. The idea is that the best posts will rise to the top, as Jones' did.
Under his alias as Integ3r, Jones created "Comprehensive timeline: Aurora Massacre" ( http://bit.ly/MM8kut) of the shootings, taken from various sources, including the online live police feed. "Reddit, I'm doing my best to update this," he wrote. The shooting is thought to have begun at around 12:39 a.m.; Jones' first post (quoting a police alert: "Bring as much crime scene tape as you can") was time-stamped 1:27 a.m.
Other reddit users added posts, including themurderator ("i am one of the 50 wounded in the aurora theatre shooting"), who posted photos of what he said was his bullet wound; and denverEM, who posted developments at the Denver Medical Health Center.
Zeynep Tufekci is an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of North Carolina. Her much-followed blog is Technosociology ( www.technosociology.com). She writes by e-mail that "I don't think professional journalism can compete with citizen journalism for initial coverage of breaking, hard-to-anticipate news; neither should it try to. . . . It's not surprising that regular people who happened to be there cover the story better in terms of getting the news out, or early pictures or facts, compared with journalists, who can only rush to the scene after the fact."
Twitter, as always, was alive with first-person tweets and pathos. Jennifer Ghawi, who went by the name of Jennifer Redfield on social media, was an aspiring journalist who died in the shootings. On Friday, her excited tweets before going to see The Dark Knight Rises were relayed all over the Web: "Never thought I'd have to coerce a guy into seeing the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises with me." Her friend Jesse Spector eulogized her on the Sporting News' NHL website ( http://bit.ly/PqGDeK).
Established media played their roles, running the initial material, offering real-time updates online, and (on cable TV) carrying new announcements and developments live. Tufekci writes that a stream of horrific tweets or photos - whether from Damascus or Denver - don't give us all the information we need, and the established media provide the deep context that "remains essential and necessary."
As Megan Garber of the Atlantic.com wrote, "This was, among other things, an exceedingly well documented atrocity."
Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @jtimpane.