Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Old soldier, new media

I’ve plugged away as at citizen journalism as both a professional and researcher for more than two years. But it took an old soldier with a horribly toothy grin to give me a real revelation.

I’m in London this semester teaching a group of Missouri students to think globally – and trying to sneak in as much sight-seeing as possible. In the name of the latter, I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony Sunday at which the Queen and a long list of dignitaries placed wreaths at the Cenotaph.

I couldn’t see Her Majesty over the top of the bearskin hats, but I did have a wonderful conversation with the Falklands veteran standing in front of me and snapped dozens of photos of Britain’s finest soldiers past and present.

When I returned home, I went to the Web to see how my UK online colleagues covered an event attended by thousands cheering Brits.

Except for free-lance photos on BBC and The Sun, they didn’t. The nation remembered the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, but the editors were waiting for something better.

That seemed a bit curious, so I downloaded my own photos to my Flickr site, tagging the set “Remembrance Day.”

Someone remembered. Within two hours, three people had labeled the Falkland’s vet photo a “favorite” and I had one direct comment. By Tuesday, it was a favorite for five people – and 203 had viewed it. In a few days visits topped 350.

That may not sound like a lot of people, but consider that to find my photo someone had to do a keyword search in Flickr for “Remembrance Day.” Could the UK media have simply waved the flag by linking to citizen sites like mine?The ceremony may not have been “big” enough to get the immediate attention of the online UK press, but the audience those journalists serve went to a lot of trouble to find old Peter Freestone in his battered Royal Army beret.

Cheers, Peter.