Hunt and gather: News consumption in the 21st century

Tracking the news before it becomes "news" is the new form of consumption.

After the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing, earlier this week, and with the current pursuit of the MIT shooter, law enforcement, news agencies, and the netizens of America rallied together and demonstrated just how interactive the news has become.

Late into the night, I was glued to my computer, with one window showing a live newscast, a Twitter feed of Watertown running in another, and, of course, Reddit. I watched and read with concentrated obsession: there was an emotional whirlwind in my head of concern for my friends in Boston and at MIT, a blend of urgency and excitement as the manhunt unfolded, and genuine fascination with how connected I felt to the scene.

My computer had become a makeshift command center for tracking the Boston manhunt. (Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho)

I started to reflect upon how news consumption has morphed from a passive into an active pastime for consumers.

As I listened to the police feed, I was constantly comparing transcripts with what was on the news, and googling definitions of various police codes as they were listed with thick, regional accents that sounded so foreign to me: It was like conducting a symphony of information management that quite frankly, I had always known consumers were capable of, but never actually applied to such a degree -- until now. Twitter, Reddit, and streaming radio and TV had turned my PC into a command center.

I was using apps like TuneIn and Web apps like Broadcastify to listen in on the Watertown police broadcast as they issued tactical commands and set up perimeters. At 1:40 a.m. PST, over 81,000 were listening in. And Reddit? Redditors were forced to create a separate thread because... well... the comment below pretty much sums it up:

Reddit user JpDeathBlade had to make a second tracking thread. (Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho)

News has become a new experience; the days of simply consuming feeds on TV and news sites are now behind us. There was a strange feeling of empowerment in watching live TV newscasts, in which anchormen confirmed events I had already known thanks to crowdsourced reporting mere minutes before; it was as if I had beaten them to the punch. The Marathon Bombing suspect chase has demonstrated how news engagement has evolved from an experience of passive observation to one of active participation, thanks to the sheer speed and interconnected nature of social media and the Web today.

If traditional news sites are still wondering how to engage with today's users, then the Boston manhunt has indicated a need for a news model that is more capable of serving an interactive and responsive community, one that goes through great lengths to dig deeper than what the ol' tube can provide. And with all the tools at our disposal, many of us are choosing to hunt, gather, and filter the facts ourselves (hopefully) with significant accuracy, insight, and speed. Just be careful of what you divulge and what sources you trust.

Live-streaming services of police radio had thousands of simultaneous listeners late into the night. (Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho)

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