Social Media Or Traditional Media During Times Of Tragedy?

Should we choose between social and traditional media during times of tragedy?

Did you know that in 1921 there was a frustrated school administrator that blew a school up with a bomb in Bath, Michigan?  True.

I learned that yesterday watching television – A more “traditional media.”  The reporting journalist noted it as an earlier and only other tragic incident involving young school children.  At that time in society, however, we would have heard about and shared the message through newspapers and regular “snail mail.”

Modern Times

Do you remember where you were when you learned of the fatal school shooting at Columbine in the United States?

I do.  At the time, I was working with international exchange students.  My organization had students at that school, so news of that tragic event traveled globally in a very personal way for many.  Back then, we would have shared messages by email — The oldest, and perhaps the largest social network.  Another form of media.

The same is very true for 9/11.

Though it is possible we had more cell phone usage available just a few short years later.

The Internet has allowed us to change quickly and share in new ways.  Fast forward a handful of years, and Twitter let us see almost a live account of the capture of Osama bin Laden.  A bit different than the previous situations mentioned, but people were glued to the news just the same.

Could we have watched or participated so directly in 1921?  Or even 1999 and 2001??


Natural Disaster

Even more recently, Hurricane Sandy brought hugely destructive to a huge population of the United States.  During he evolution of the super-storm, social media was a welcomed resource to many.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, and probably other social networks served to:

  • Report news.
  • Exchange photos as visual aid.
  • Share video of actual occurrence.
  • Keep in touch with friends and family.

Some businesses used social media to announce availability of sale items and donations for Hurricane Sandy victims.  RoomSketcher used Facebook, Twitter, and their blog to make available their free floor plan tool for homeowners so they could submit floor plans to insurance companies to successfully facilitate their claims.

#PrayForNewtown | #SandyHook | PrayForCT

I learned of the tragic, horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Facebook from fellow SteamFeed author, Robert Caruso.  My family and I were on our way back from a week away, and I was checking my social networks on my mobile phone.  It was his status update I saw first.

We were……….shocked.

But for us, our social media served as a news outlet.  As it may have been for many like us.

Some would argue the sharing of such events is disrespectful and leads to misinformation.  ‘Tis true – Not all efforts are correct or honorable.  Here’s an example:

(image credit:

The above are actual tweets on Twitter from journalists trying to communicate with a Sandy Hook victim found on  Twitchy curates Twitter tweets to allow users to see “who said what.”  I’ve found this to be a tool to the truth.

Real To Reel Effects

More often than not, people have good intentions with social media, and it can be very useful in connecting people and topics for the greater good.  In some ways, I’d say it has brought people to observe heightened forms of respect:

  • Syndicating news.
  • Correcting untruths.
  • Sharing the truth.
  • Comforting friends.
  • Activating message champions.
  • Collecting donations.
  • Curating information.

Sure, newspapers and television – The “traditional media” can get us the news and related images we need and want.

But social media leads us to a more personal, actual message — Of print, picture, and video.

I’d venture to say social media brings us news from a raw, human messenger so we, as a society, can continue to evolve with a voice in the game.

(image credit:

The television news brought us several sign images made and displayed by people supporting their neighbors.

Question: Without social media, would we have ever seen the image above, share these images as citizens, or “meet” Carl Stevens?

Social media in times of tragedy – In your opinion, what is it’s place?

What say you — Did I miss anything above?

Please tell me your thoughts in comments below…

Keri Jaehnig
Keri Jaehnig is the Founder and CMO at Idea Girl Media, an international Social Media Marketing Agency. Keri helps business brands, non-profits and public figures achieve social media success and positive online reputation. Keri's work has been featured at Forbes and Social Media Today, Search Engine People, and she has been quoted by Business Insider. She also writes for her own blog at In 2013 Keri received a Small Business Influencer Honorable Mention Award, and a commendation for Outstanding Attainment in Social Media from the State of Ohio Senate. Non-fat lattes, travel & quick wit make her smile, and Keri is always enthused to meet new people!
Keri Jaehnig

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