Commentary

Comparing Mumbai To Munich

Having spent eight days in India in August, I found the recent tragic events in Mumbai of particular interest as I have both business colleagues as well as friends in three of the largest cities in India. While the world watched the events play out to their terrible conclusion, I was reminded of one of the most seminal events in television history, that of watching Jim McKay's harrowing updates during the 1972 Olympic game in Munich. It's interesting to compare the two events, 36 years apart.

Unlike today, in 1972 we were dependent almost entirely on one main source: ABC Sports, which had cameras trained on the compound where the hostages were being held. Eventually, through a video pooling process, other networks had access to footage, but that came a bit later. It is difficult to state the impact that September 5, 1972 had on the world of live television and on the viewing audience that was watching throughout the world. It took 27 years for the truth of what happened that evening to be fully understood and those facts are brilliantly told in the 1999 Academy Award- winning documentary, "One Day in September."

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Last week, we were able to see and hear the events in India unfold in a vast array of media, and CNN certainly stayed with the story for more time than any other broadcasting entity. Moreover -- and what is certainly far different than in 1972 -- is that there were multiple broadcasting entities covering the story, along with still photos, camera phone snaps, blogs, and vlogs. This provided some unusual and, sometimes, more haunting, coverage. One vlog on the CNN site was identified as being from someone in the Taj Hotel, looking directly into a laptop-mounted webcam. Never before have we had such intimate aspects available to us as events unfolded. CNN went one step further with requests like (I paraphrase): "Are you in Mumbai? Send us your pictures."

For those of us who were unable to move from our couches in 1972 -- desperate for a glimpse of something promising from the cameras trained on the windows or some word from Jim McKay -- the coverage of the unfolding events in India was similar, in the sense that one could only imagine what was going on in that hotel. But it was also different in that there were multiple places we could look to find information and most of it was strikingly helpful in understanding what was happening. Some of it -- which has come under quite a lot of criticism -- was not so factual. Those who twittered that the death toll had reached 1,500 certainly show that just because you can type it and post it doesn't mean that it's the responsible thing to do.

As a viewer, there was a strange mixture of helplessness (not being able to know what was going on) and also empowerment in being able to search for as many different viewpoints and types of coverage which simply did not exist in 1972.

In general, "field-generated content" and "user-generated content" have taken on a connotation of not being of great value or use. This content is suffering because it's been equated to questionable forms of entertainment. When people hear "user-generated content," the first thing that may come to mind is yet another clichéd version of A cat flushing a toilet seat.

But the recent events in Mumbai have shown the power and diversity in telling a story from different points of view.

Where else -- and by what other means -- could we have foreseen that we would be viewing content taken by a hotel guest, from a perspective many of us could not even imagine? This is but one result of the true newsgathering and news reporting promise and potential of user-generated content, albeit realized through a tragic event.

2 comments about "Comparing Mumbai To Munich ".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 8, 2008 at 5:18 p.m.

    that is fiction not fictions..sorry for the typo

  2. Tom McDonald, December 9, 2008 at 9:42 p.m.

    Well articulated perspective Tom . . . lest we forget that we in the US are in a very fortunate position when it comes Internet access relative to these emerging nations. In India the primary way people access the Internet is the mobile phone . . . 50 million and counting in India . . broadband access is limited to just about 3 million. The ubiquity of the mobile phone, emerging technologies such as LTE, WiMAX and improvements in mobile imaging, device processors and memory capacity will soon expand the depth and breadth and "unique" perspective you highlight here. Yes, there will be negative aspects to the ubiquitous access to high-quality mobile video acquisition and broadcast capabilities, but with it will come a new age where the necessity to communicate in frames of video will be nearly important as that of the spoken word . . . bridging huge cultural and geographic barriers that still divide our world.

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