Roughly 30 months later, the paradigm seems to have shifted.The rise of the vigilante investigation now seems undergirded by the internet-utopian idea that any and all information should be free and that those with the digital means to procure that information should be compelled to expose it.As is usually the case in the immediate moments following a tragedy, local news outlets were doing most of the groundwork before the national correspondents and cable networks descended.That night, however, my feed was dominated by links to Reddit, where an 18-year-old student from Denver named Morgan Jones spent the night chained to his dual monitors, exhaustively collecting and dutifully updating a Reddit thread with posts from local media, police scanners, and on-the-ground social media posts.Jones was by no means the first citizen journalist to use an online platform to elevate his voice and contribute reporting to scoop legacy media (similar news-gathering Reddit threads existed far before Jones'), but the high visibility of Jones' thread, coupled with the fact that his careful work turned up few hoaxes and spread credible information, seems to mark a turning point for internet-based citizen news gathering.Since Jones' thread, this online behavior has metastasized through social news sites like Reddit and online anonymous message boards like 4chan.Reddit was cautiously excited about this development; then-general manager Erik Martin told me that "what is on the news isn't always the story that people want to talk about and be involved with.On this site, you can get into and explore what you're truly interested in." The next day, Jones' thread found an Adult Friend Finder profile that seemed to belong to the shooter, James Holmes, that had gone unfound by legacy outlets.
"It was sort of a strange feeling, like Reddit's supposed to be this aggregate news site, but we're actually breaking news to the media right now," Jones told the New York Times.
None of which is to say that the media establishment is infallible — the rise of the vigilante investigation and record-low levels of public distrust of media is surely no coincidence.
The internet's uncanny ability to add fuel to the fire of our cultural obsessions no doubt plays a role as well.
Social media, often fueled by citizens on the ground, has proven itself invaluable during breaking news for years, and role of the citizen journalist is likely to play an increasingly visible role in the current media ecosystem for some time now.
Social media will continue to give oxygen to new events and movements like Ferguson, which may never have reached the greater public without it.
Working fast, but carefully, Jones found a Reddit post from a user who'd been shot that night and had posted a photo of his wounds, beating local and national media to the story hour after hour.