Covering the death of Osama bin Laden

4 May

After finishing an episode of my favorite TV show Sunday night, I was bracing myself for a mountain of homework when my dad’s phone rang. The call was from the newsroom of the Los Angeles Daily News, where my dad works as an editor, but unlike most stories, this news was spreading like wildfire across the world.

In case you haven’t heard, Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Sunday by American operatives.

My first reaction was to jump on Facebook to see what everyone was saying and whether or not others knew more about the situation. I was surprised by the number who had already made the news a part of their status, and also by how little information had been released.

As a journalist, I couldn’t resist the urge to write something immediately, but as a student journalist, I don’t have the resources professionals have when covering news as big as bin Laden’s death. I jotted down quotes from President Obama’s speech, but decided that they weren’t really “news” seeing as the rest of the country had just watched the broadcast as well.

So, how does one even begin to cover the death of one of the FBI’s Most Wanted?

Localize, localize, localize.

After watching Obama’s speech, I updated my school’s online news site, The Foothill Dragon Press, so we had an announcement about it on our front page. It was only a short time later that I noticed comments about 9/11 and arguments regarding the morality of “celebrating” bin Laden’s death springing up on Facebook.

I realized that the story was actually in these reactions, and so I posted a status asking for people’s feelings on bin Laden’s death, memories of 9/11 and thoughts on the war in Afghanistan. I also included that I was looking for comments to use in an article, which is important to make clear in any interview but especially on Facebook where people’s comments can be easily copied and pasted into an article without their knowing. My journalism adviser also posted the status on her Wall and our paper’s page, which helped get quite a few comments from high school students, college students and teachers.

It was a bit of a scramble to find a creative commons photo of bin Laden, but I managed to have the article up on the site by 9:45 p.m. PST, an hour after Obama’s speech aired.

Seeing the coverage of the event, and being a part of it, made me proud to be a journalist. Though as student journalists our audience is usually smaller than professional news organizations, we still have the power to write stories that affect how people view the world. Our work is important to our readers, and at the end of the day, there is not much that separates what we do from what professionals do. If we make use of tools (like Facebook), I don’t think that there is any story “too big” for us to cover.

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