By Steve Outing
Administrators at Virginia Tech are getting questioned (rightfully) about the way they handled yesterday’s shootings. After the first shootings of two people early in the day, university law enforcement did not alert the campus community while police tried to piece together the situation. When the second and larger round of shootings occurred, most people on campus did not know about the earlier shootings — unless they heard about it via e-mails, phone calls or text messages from friends.
As is predictable in a big story like this, students and faculty on campus throughout yesterday’s tragedy used cell phones and the Internet to trade information and rumors. (Media Daily News has a good roundup story of this phenomenon.)
So, once again, the people who are part of the story use modern technology to get vital information from each other, while official institutions (campus police, university administration) fall back on the old way of doing things: Wait till all the information is gathered and analyzed before issuing a public statement.
Frankly, the world has changed. Just as news media must adapt to this demand for instant dissemination of what we know about a story, so too must other institutions. In hindsight, university officials should have shared what they knew almost immediately, so at least everyone on campus could have been hyper alert to potential danger.
The gatekeeping function in today’s wired (and wireless) world doesn’t make as much sense as it once did, when any eyewitness with a cell phone can be a reporter, and those involved have the means to share what they know immediately.