Woolwich terrorism killing coverage a watershed moment for citizen journalism and mainstream media

By Stephen Lepitak | -

May 22, 2013 | 5 min read

Today we have seen a watershed moment in the movement of citizen journalism as mobile phone interviews with one of the attackers of a man killed in Woowich, with blood soaked hands and still carrying a meat cleaver, was broadcast on ITN News.

The video footage is incredible for many reasons, not least because the interview with one of the two attackers, just moments after brutally killing his victim, shows that he is fully aware of his actions as he apologised to women for having to witness the incident.

A woman is even seen continuing to walk towards the killer and past the motionless body, seemingly unaware of the crowd looking on. It’s a chilling scene.

That anyone was brave enough to knowingly approach one of the assailants is incredible. That they ended up with a news exclusive that captures the aftermath of the horrific incident is almost unthinkable of a member of the public, and shows just how far technology has come that it is then broadcast on one of the UK’s premier news broadcasters.

ITN also broadcast further footage taken by another member of the public on his way to a job interview featuring images of both assailants after they had been shot by police. He is then moved on by officers attempting to clear the scene.

Such images are rare to see, and utterly shocking to view on mainstream television at tea-time. ITN has made a bold move in broadcasting the footage, potentially putting itself at risk of being accused of playing into the attackers hands in offering them a platform to engage with an audience.

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Police are still to offer much information on the incident, despite the footage that makes it clear how savage an attack, which is also said to have included a machete, must have been. With a trail of blood smeared across the pavement in front of what appears to be the assailants car, there’s no doubt that those who witnessed this apparent act of terrorism will have been stunned.

There will be little control of the press in this situation, and it must be becoming very difficult for communication desks to offer what little information they can to the press when there is so much more available that is out of their hands. They are working to a strategy that is now extremely dated, with social media complicating the process all the more.

A major aside, but bear with me here as this is another example of a futile attempt to control information being given to the press, is yesterday’s story on the departure of Stoke FC manager Tony Pulis. The story was widely reported as fact, with senior members of football team even giving interviews with TalkSport on his departure, despite the press office protestations that it had no confirmation and could not comment. It took the club until today to confirm what everyone had known for 24 hours already and been confirmed by other sources in the know.

Media is moving too quickly for press departments. I deal with this issue often, asking for a comment or confirmation from a company, knowing full well that by the time they have responded, the story could well have moved on further. Communications teams really do have a problem in moving faster - needing as they do, to be allowed to respond by those at the top while externally the world looks to other unofficial sources of information.

Tonight we have seen a truly shocking incident take place. And this will not be the last time that citizen journalists will be at the forefront of feeding the mainstream media for its information and content. It’s an exciting time for journalism but also a difficult one for those who look to control the story.


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