Technology makes storytellers of citizens

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[London] In the aftermath of the July 7 bombings, the public became the media.

Londoners turned into cameramen and reporters as news outlets rushed to inform the world about the terrorist attack that killed at least 54 people and injured another 700. With nearly 100% cellphone penetration in the U.K. and the ubiquity of picture- and video-messaging facilities on phones, people witnessing the four bomb blasts-three on the subway and one on a bus-provided the most chilling images to the media, capturing the claustrophobia of the wrecked Tube carriages. These "citizen reporters" delivered vivid and disturbing evidence of the aftermath of the atrocities, which occurred during the morning rush hour.

The "citizen-reporter" phenomenon was particularly dramatic because the three train blasts were underground and there was no other way of filming events. A week after the attacks, news crews have still not been allowed back to capture the scenes, so the media must rely on the public's pictures.

Ben Rayner, editor of the ITV News Channel, whose coverage of the 7/7 events was broadcast live across the U.S. on CNN and NBC, said, "We can broadcast images less than five minutes after they were taken. And TV news is all about getting the pictures on first."

ITV, the BBC, Sky News and national newspapers all appealed for pictures and received an unprecedented response from the public, although some images were too gruesome to be used and all had to be scrutinized to make sure they were genuine.

"This is just the beginning," Mr. Rayner said. "The technology will get better and better until we can broadcast live interviews with members of the public via their cellphones."


Necessity became the mother of invention in other ways during the bombings:

Ambulance team leader Bob Brotchie came up with an idea-backed by Vodafone-that everyone should have an "I.C.E" (in case of emergency) listing on their cellphone contacts. Posters are being put up in public places such as hospitals, doctors' offices, police stations and libraries to encourage everyone to take part, and an e-mail campaign is being circulated virally.

As TV and newspapers competed to offer the most extensive coverage of events, advertising was pulled to make room. The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph removed ads from the first five pages of the following day's edition, and ITV and Sky broadcast continuously for up to nine hours without an ad break. Pete Edwards, Starcom's U.K. managing director, estimates that ITV pulled about $1.8 million worth of advertising off the air on the day. But ITV makes monthly deals with most marketers and will show the spots at a later date, recouping the money.

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