'We media' scoop state outlets and shape public opinion

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, July 27, 2011
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Amid the wailing and panicked shouts of passengers trapped in a derailed high-speed train car, a 19-year-old passenger used her cell phone to post a SOS message on her microblog Saturday night.

"Help us, please. Our train is tilted and the coach is trapped. The other coaches were rear-ended," one of her messages said. Her first message had received 18,441 replies as of Sunday morning. People from all walks of life have been prompted to action by the posts made by the student and others in the wake of China's deadliest railway accident in years.

Bullet train D301 crashed into train D3115 at 8:38pm Saturday near the city of Wenzhou in east China's Zhejiang Province. Train D3115 was halted on the tracks after being hit by lightning and losing power, with train D301 rear-ending train D3115 on a suspended bridge. Two of train D3115's coaches were derailed, while four of train D301's coaches fell off of the bridge.

The latest developments in the accident have concurrently emerged through both official news media channels and microblogs hosted by China's online news portal sina.com. Shortly after the injured passengers were taken to hospitals in Wenzhou, lengthy lists bearing the names of the injured were circulated online. Families looking for missing relatives have uploaded pictures and brief descriptions of their family members, hoping that people in Wenzhou will check local hospitals for their relatives.

One netizen posted an image of a crying face and a burning candle on his or her microblog, saying, "I really do not know what to do. Please forward my information. I am looking for Lu Haitian, he was sitting in the third coach. I have been calling him for hours, but his phone is still powered off."

The message was reposted 4,464 times before word came that Lu had perished. Many netizens responded by posting images of a red candle, wishing Lu peace after death. Lu was a sophomore at the Communications University of China. He was taking the train to Wenzhou to start an internship at a TV station.

Hospitals reported blood supply shortages after receiving many injured people. Many people have rushed to donate blood after hearing about the shortages online.

One netizen posted on his microblog: "I took the D3115 train myself two months ago. Brothers, let's go to donate blood. Unity is strength." The Zhejiang Provincial Health Bureau thanked donors on its official microblog and announced that blood supplies were sufficient.

Citizen journalism

"Microblogs have once again beaten traditional media in terms of mobilization, amount of information and speed," reads a message posted on a microblog belonging to Sina Zhejiang Videonews.

The Sichuan Cellphone Press, an organization that provides interactive mobile and digital media as a supplement to traditional media, posted a message on its official microblog extolling the power of "we-media," a term used to describe regular citizens who, armed with easy-to-use web publishing tools such as mobile phones and laptops, have become active participants in the creation and dissemination of news in recent years.

"The first published picture of the crash site did not come from traditional media, but from a Wenzhou resident...The power of 'we-media' is overwhelming!" the Sichuan Cellphone Press said.

Statistics from the China Internet Network Information Center showed that China had 485 million active Internet in June. In the first half of the year, the number of microblog users China surged from 63.11 million to 195 million.

"In emergency situations, microblogs have not only served as a significant tool for information dissemination, but have also affected the formation and changing of public opinion," said Meng Lingjun, a lecturer at the Central China Normal University.

However, while microblogs have played a supervisory role and established a platform for emergency rescue efforts during past crises, they can also become hot beds of resentment, Meng said.

While the cause of the accident is still under investigation, devastated netizens have called on the government to designate a national day of mourning to commemorate the deceased.

A netizen using the screen name "xuefeige" from south China's Guangdong Province said that he was bewildered as to why train D3115 failed to communicate with the railway dispatch center after losing power.

"I am still panic-stricken after hearing that 41 people died in a bus fire on Friday. Here comes yet another miserable accident. What is the safest vehicle to travel by?" he said. An overcrowded long-distance bus caught fire on the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway near the city of Xinyang in central China's Henan Province on Friday. The State Council, or China's Cabinet, issued a notice after the fire, calling on all relevant departments to tighten their monitoring of traffic safety and prevent future accidents. However, the train derailment was front and center.

On Sunday, A netizen using the screenname "taoyuhuaxiang" from east China's Shandong Province posted, "Pray for those who died in the Wenzhou train crash. Look at the barrage of transport accidents; I cannot help but cry for the fragility of our lives. Let the deceased rest in peace."


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