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


  1. HeartAGlow says

    H Keri
    Very thoughtful post.. mirrors some of my own questions. I too learned of the Sandy Hook tragedy via social media. (as I do virtually all of my news)… It's where my news comes to me from a vast (almost infinite) array of sources..
    And for me, the thing I cherish most about social media; is that it is more than "getting the news"; it's being able to share/communicate/discuss our personal reactions; our philosophical or political "take" on the news with friends of many and various beliefs and opinions :)

    • ideagirlmedia says


      Very good point – Social media does give us the opportunity to discuss our beliefs and opinions.

      I've tuned in to some news on social media well before I would have discovered it on TV or in the newspaper. So, for me, it means I learn things sooner a lot of the time.

      It's horribly said that sometimes our news is not positive…

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  2. rayhiltz says

    Important post, Keri. There has been a lot of criticism aimed at both traditional and social media about coverage of this unspeakably tragic event.

    Most of it addressed the question of the media's influence in fanning hysteria and making "media" stars of the perpetrators. Will other people with severe mental illness be tempted to copycat; to make a last ditch attempt at notoriety?

    This debate has gone on long before twitter. The difference, I think with social media is that everyone now "works" for the media and there are no editorial boards or policies.

    We used to take mass media classes in school specifically to learn how to consume news discriminatingly.
    I wonder if it's possible to do the same for social media.

  3. Brad Lovett says

    Traditional media crossed the line in several ways. First, very inacurate information was given and perpetrated (also happened during the Colorado shooting…you really can mess up people's lives when you finger the wrong person-like someone with the same name-for a mass murder, subjecting innocent people to bile and death threats). Traditional media needed to take a chill pill in interviewing the kids and harrassing grieving family members for interviews. The site of seemingly 100 photographers across the street from the little boy's funeral was ridiculous. Why not just one pool camera? I heard an interesting discussion about why the name of the shooter should be witheld. A copycat realizes he will go out in a blaze of glory…even make the President cry. Unfortunately, with social media that name would not be sealed.

  4. ideagirlmedia says


    I do think boundaries are crossed with each instance. With the numbers of news reporters involved, it's easy to be so competitive. And, there are not such big consequences for them.

    We will need to find a happy medium form of protocol. Unfortunately, it is not the first priority.

    I do think some good work has been done in this instance. And the majority of people look to be ethical.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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