Lacroix, a guy who lives in Minneapolis, carried CNN and blew away local coverage for the first crucial 20 minutes of today's collapsed bridge story, proving compelling, articulate live accounts after sending about five pictures of the destroyed span -- about what a pro's first dump would be. He even had the presence of mind to send CNN a filer, only a week old, of the intact bridge. CNN's producers didn't think to immediately make use of that image until LaCroix mentioned it in passing to a surprised Wolf Blitzer, who asked on the air that it be broadcast immediately.
Because of LaCroix, CNN's coverage was superior to that of their local affiliate, whose on-air anchors were reduced to time-killing babble over the ambiguous video of a fixed-position (likely security) camera somewhere off in the distance, which did not even cleraly show the collapse as well as it did a nearby intact span.
LaCroix's work is on the CNN online story, of course, a capture which shows a car teetering over an edge and others resting tenuously on cracks. Nothing that anyone produces later will match these.
Earlier this year there was chatter about whether the Virginia Tech student cameraphone video of shots being fired -- out of camera range -- signaled the turning point in citizen journalism.
That happened tonight, at about 6:40, central standard time.
User generated news material is trickling into the news stream at an increasing rate. CNN was a pioneer in this vein, of course; in the early 1980s, with the sudden proliferation of household video cameras, it asked its viewers for tapes of bad weather and the like and got some pretty good stuff. But it was all a novelty until the proliferation of digital and the Internet.
Within 30 minutes of the bridge collapse, for example, Lacroix had taken his pictures and transmitted them to CNN in Atlanta, where they were quickly identified as newsworthy (I have no idea what vetting process CNN uses, but it sure works). This is light speed, journeyman work even by a well-equipped professional.
Only today, by coincidence, Reuters touted its own inroads in the use of UGC pictures. Tom Szlukovenyi, Reuters's Global Pictures Editor, blogged that their own nine-month "You Witness" partnership with Yahoo! "is doing well."Singled out by Reuters was a "rare selection of pictures shot in North Korea by reuters.com reader Nora Stribma" that were displayed on the front page of their site.
But the real promise of UGC will be in breaking news, as CNN demonstrated tonight. Journalists are almost never at the scene of breaking news, but someone almost always is. Mr. Lacroix has set a very high bar for citizen journalists to come.
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