7/7 and the dawn of ‘citizen journalism’

Ten years ago today, during an ordinary Thursday morning, 52 people were killed and more than 700 injured in four suicide attacks on London’s transport system. Three explosions took place on the Underground network (at Aldgate, Edgeware Road and King’s Cross) and another on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square brought terror to the streets of the capital and caused major disruption to transport both inside and outside of London.

However, one of the unexpected effects of the London bombings was the birth of ‘citizen journalism’ as we know it today. Journalists at national broadcasters were swamped by information from the public in the aftermath of the attacks, with a then unprecedented 20,000 emails helping to report, in real-time, the developing story in London.

Coming a year before the launch of Twitter and before the release of the first smart-phones, 7/7 marked a new era in journalism, where user-generated content puts increasing pressure on the media to cover the latest developments. What is now considered the norm following an event of its magnitude, broadcasters had been unprepared for the sheer number of messages, photos and videos from those caught up in the incident and how technological improvements had changed the pace of breaking news.

Now, ten years on, images and statements from members of the public are now widespread and have been vital in reporting almost any story, ranging from national and international news (such as the Costa Condordia disaster, the Nepalese earthquake and, most recently, the Tunisia beach massacre) to local news as well. And with the use of social media, in particular Twitter, these images can be shared worldwide and the developing story followed in real-time as reported by the general public. Twitter has also provided a platform for authorities to respond quickly to the latest developments and provide comment, making what would have taken several hours for a journalist to get hold of take only a matter of minutes.

In short, the London bombings a decade ago today changed the way the media operates, especially in how the deal with user-generated content and began a new era where citizen journalism takes more of a prominent and essential role in the world of breaking news.

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