CNN: Give us your tragedy. Let us sell it for our own benefit.

Within a few hours of yesterday's horrific events at Virgina Tech, had posted video, submitted by a student, capturing some of the gunfire. The video (found here) was shot on a cellphone outside a dormitory and appears to be a police officer shooting at an unseen target. It is shaky, grainy, and entirely inconclusive outside of the situation. However, given the circumstances, it is incredibly jarring.

After viewing the video, I thought to myself, how exactly did CNN get this - and how did it get it so soon after the incident?

The answer was quite simple: They set up a web page (linked prominently on its main site) specifically asking witnesses to send videos, photos and audio.

I am not passing judgment on whether or not CNN, or any other media outlet, should be posting video of this event so soon after it has taken place. But I am questioning these methods.

CNN is not YouTube or MySpace. It is not a web site that is created specifically to encourage users to create their own content. It is a news agency. It is not in the business, nor should it be in the business, of asking (read: begging) witnesses of tragic events to create content for them. Further, they should not be so blatantly abusing the very people providing them with these materials. In small print, CNN notes that users submitting media agree to their terms of use, which includes this particularly exploitative language:

By submitting your material... you hereby grant to CNN.. a non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide license to edit, telecast, rerun, reproduce, use, syndicate, license, print, sublicense, distribute and otherwise exhibit the materials you submit... without payment to you or any third party... CNN has the right to edit and/or alter any submission.

Boiled-down version of the page: Give us your tragedy. Let us sell it for our benefit and not yours. Read more...

-----'s Michael Agger looked at a similar situation regarding the media's response to the event.

In the afternoon many Virginia Tech students took to the internet. One of these students posted a blog entry on LiveJournal expressing his grief. The FIRST comment on the post reads:

Hi This is Falice Chin from CBC Newsworld. We are looking for witnesses right now for live phone interviews. Please call me 403-521-6038 ASAP THANKS!

Further on the page:

Hi, Timnothy.
I'm one of those press vultures. :-)
You made a great comment here. Would you mind if I talked with you?
alex.pham (at) latimes (dt) com
or 858-551-2899

[Emphasis Added on each post.]

Admittedly, the LA Times' reporter is the lesser offender of the two. But still, why post comments like these on a public site and with so many typos?

More responses to the media coverage and "Citizen Journalists" here and here. Jeff Jarvis, of the latter link, writes (emphasis added):

"I don't think it will work to feed this live news through the big news organizations, exclusively. I see that … with scores of reporters each trying to get their piece of the student's voice when … the student's voice and account is already online for all to see, on a LiveJournal blog. The right thing to do is to point to that, to quote it, to link to it."

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