As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, Kristine Gloria experienced the campus shooting on Tuesday through the lens of modern, mobile media. Above: Screenshots of her iPhone with UT Alerts, taken throughout the day.
Austin, TX — Forty-eight hours after reports hit the wire of a shooting on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the scurried and anxious rhythm of that day has slowed back down to a steady pulse. Just as quickly as the news swept through Austin and the nation, the news cycle snapped back to its regularly scheduled programming. Yet, despite returning to campus and feeling more informed about what had happened, many questions remain.
As a student, my capacity for information rose tenfold two days ago — with text messages, emails, newscasts, tweets and Facebook updates appearing within the first 20 minutes of Tuesday morning. This influx of intense communication is not the first of its kind or unique in any way (though kudos to the University’s Alert System for its impeccable execution during the situation).
In terms of information flow, here’s how my morning broke down:
8:24 a.m. CDT: Received a text message from UT Alert system (which also reached approximately 53,000 other students).
8:25 a.m. CDT: Check local news and only found The Today Show.
8:25 a.m. CDT: Logged onto Twitter to find updates.
8:30 a.m. CDT: Hit refresh repeatedly on Twitter to keep up with the news.
9:30 a.m. CDT: Attended a meeting in East Austin and finally saw a newscast with live updates from campus.
8:30 - 10 a.m. CDT: Received countless text messages from friends and family asking if I was okay.
Beyond 10:00 am CDT, I continued to keep up with news via Twitter only — partially because I was in a meeting, but more so because the information was delivered quickly and directly to my mobile device (in this case, an iPhone). My phone facilitated delivery of critical news updates almost immediately. It just took a quick sweep of my finger on the screen to refresh the page. But, to focus on the speed in news delivery is so 2007. The more outstanding questions revolve around accuracy and access. Surely, early tweets about an AK-47 were an embellishment, right?
Keeping this in mind, two things struck me as notable. First, I gravitated towards information that referenced traditional news organizations like KVUE (local TV station) or The Statesman (local newspaper). This included status updates from the organizations themselves, as well as my constituents that cited these media outlets. Could the often criticized “noise” and useless personal idiosyncrasies of Twitter be disappearing? Are the days of “ate a sandwich” on my feed long gone? Or, have I successfully curated an “intelligent” feed?
Making a generalization out of a very small sampling, technology has indeed reframed the way news is disseminated. However, as I observed, perhaps there remains a space and position for traditional media outlets. Or, maybe I’m just a traditionalist.
Second observation: For those located outside of Texas, several admitted to watching the event on LiveStream. Why an online platform? What happened to CNN? Is it because LiveStream touts “real-time” streaming? Does this stream reflect a more realistic feel than that of a produced news package of traditional broadcasts? And, what does it mean when the local TV station features this stream on its own site?
This discussion is not here to make light of the tragic events of Tuesday, to be sure. But in this era of extreme and instantaneous information overload, exploration of effective communication pathways and processes during times of crisis is critical to the process of informing future response systems. Moreover, as the debates rage on about access across various communication platforms, it is in these instances of real crisis that we can find the practical positives and the negatives.
But let me be clear: The Longhorn community remains very much in mourning. And, despite the flash in which the events came and left, the loss of a fellow student won’t disappear anywhere near as quickly. Student Government representative John Lawler wrote it best in this op-ed in The Daily Texan: “So as we move on, trying to return to our tests, delayed labs and papers, I can’t think of anything else to do except reflect on a question unanswered. Policies, procedures and philosophies aside, human life can end at any given moment. As to why this happens, or why it needs to happen, I’d have to say we’ll probably never know. We faced such a question yesterday on campus, one which I am afraid we are not capable of answering.”