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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.
They've adopted their own aesthetic that Sam Biddle at Gawker recently coined as "Chart Brut," a "simple, unrefined, urgent, ominous, striving to be informative, and utterly incomprehensible...digital middle-ground between the string-and-thumbtack cork-board flowcharts favored by premium-cable obsessives like Rust Cohle and Carrie Mathison, and the meaningless tangles of agency responsibilities beloved by security-apparatus bureaucrats, and it's emerged as the defining folk aesthetic of the 2014 internet." This style perfectly describes the investigative phenomenon that gave it life: It's often childish, convoluted, at times impressive, slipshod, obsessive, and slightly frightening.
At its very best, it gives voice to the disenfranchised. The first time I really, truly noticed it was around 4 a.m. I'd come home from a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises to news of a tragic movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
I watched my Twitter feed, which was moving feverishly, considering the hour, spitting out information at a rapid clip.
"It feels like I'm helping out people who need to know this stuff," he said.
Jones' aims, in other words, were well-intentioned; he wanted to work with the media, not in spite of it.
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.