The Titanic and community engagement: how are they related?

It took several days for some newspapers to deliver the correct news after the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. But thanks to some community legwork, one small newspaper in England got the story right quicker.

It’s a line we in journalism still hear all the time: “are bloggers journalists?”

It still boils down to the decade-old argument that can “ordinary citizens” – that is, those not specifically trained in journalism – contribute to the day’s news and perhaps make a difference in reporting, whether through a newspaper or through another medium?

Obviously, this blog and lab serves to answer that question with a “yes,” but still the argument continues among our industry’s brightest minds.

While researching this week, I stumbled across a premiere example of such contribution I thought I’d share that demonstrates the power of community contributions and engagement with local readership.

It’s been no secret in our newsroom I’m a huge Titanic fiend. I read and watch whatever I can about the ocean liner that sunk on its maiden voyage. I have a front page from the Boston Daily Globe from 1912 when the liner sank. I write about the Titanic in newspapers and in blogs. And with the 100-year anniversary last weekend, there’s been a wealth of info at my disposal.

But one piece caught my eye: written by Craig Silverman, the article “How an engaged citizen, new technology enabled one paper to get the Titanic story right in 1912” posted on Poynter.

Summarized, it talks about how a small newspaper in Birmingham, England had gotten the story right on April 15, 1912, faster than most other publications that the boat had sank. How did the small newspaper do it? It didn’t have the resources other publications, such as the Christian Science Monitor, had. It was assisted by ham radio operators who relayed the information to their local newspaper. In essence, community members had gathered the news using modern technology, and submitted it for better dissemination to the local newspaper. Using ham radios was a new concept, and reporters weren’t as familiar with the channel. The same could be said for blogging, especially in the early 2000s. Blogging has become a wider range medium something every journalists (duh) do.

So what’s different now than 1912? Technology, that’s for sure. While the world has changed a lot over the last century, this concept of “ordinary citizens” using modern technology goes to show it’s not something that should be shunned, but embraced. it was ham radios then, now, it’s blogging, texts and Instagram photos. It’s no different now than when the Titanic sank. Everyone wins if we work together, a goal we’re working toward here.

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One thought on “The Titanic and community engagement: how are they related?

  1. Reblogged this on It's time to ramble on… and commented:

    This is a post I wrote for my workplace’s community media lab, but it’s an interesting application of using the audience as a way to gather news. I thought I’d share it here as well.

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