Using the Web to cover breaking events

After the crash of ComAir Flight 5191, about a year ago, I wrote a piece criticizing the lackluster way news sites use Web resources in covering breaking news. When the news broke of the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis last night, I set out to see how many Web resources I could find. I found traffic cameras, “before” pictures of the bridge, the pre-collapse Wikipedia page, MN-DOT construction reports and satellite views.

All of these great resources were available for the asking. But few were asking.

News sites did do a better job of soliciting and using user-generated content. CNN’s I-Report, which turns 1 today, featured some of the first pictures I saw. Wolf Blitzer interviewed several of those who submitted photos by phone. (I’m sure one day soon we’ll see see CNN air someone’s live Webcam of breaking news.) featured about a half-dozen photos submitted by users as well as a comment board. The Strib started with a homemade map and later switched to the more useful Google map. Oddly, the Strib kept its registration firewall up during this time, requiring people to sign up to see more than a few pages of content.

Wikipedia has been on top of the story. The Wikipedia page for the bridge has been edited about 1,000 times since the bridge collapse, with the first reference to the bridge collapse 24 minutes after it happened. The current article is well-sourced and includes numerous pictures and maps. Wikipedians did the best job at using Web resources, with numerous links to original documents, including documents from MN-DOT, the MN Historical Society and the MN library. They even did a better job of finding archived content from the Star Tribune than the Star Tribune. According  to, it only beat Wikipedia by 2 minutes.

I was a little surprised at how slowly the flickr coverage picked up. I searched throughout the evening and got no results. But when I woke up this morning the same search returned nearly 900 pictures. You can see many pictures plotted on a map of the area.

As a news consumer, I had a plethora of choices. At one point I was watching video streams from two of the Minneapolis TV stations on my laptop while watching CNN on TV.

Disclosure: I used to work at and still have a few friends there.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
This entry was posted in journalism, media, newspapers, web 2, web 2.0. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Using the Web to cover breaking events

  1. lovetodrivegirl says:

    Rocky, were you able to read any of Roadguy’s Blog on It’s available under the Opinion section, then in the Blog section. Comments have been getting posted since the bridge collapse. Very interesting reading regarding why it happened and what people think should be built now.

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