- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

On Media

Americans were said to huddle around a "TV campfire" in the days and months after September 11. Actually, it was more than one campfire.
For better or worse, the attacks turned the Internet into "a public commons a virtual public space where grief, fear, anger, patriotism and even hatred could be shared," according to a Pew Research Center survey released Friday.
Indeed, 19 million people "rekindled" relationships with estranged family members, old school chums and former colleagues after the attacks; 83 percent still maintain those relationships, the survey found.
But it also noted a new phenomenon: the rise of do-it-yourself journalism among American Internet users, who now number 110 million. With unprecedented access to some credible news sources and lots of incredible news sources, unprecedented numbers of Web surfers now see themselves as both reporters and editors in a post-September 11 world.
The Internet provided "a broad catalog of fact and fancy," particularly in first-hand accounts of the World Trade Center collapse and other pivotal moments. Rumor, conspiracy theories, cover-ups and dramatic commentary also found space in cyberspace.
The survey found that "Nostradamus" was the most popular search word on the Google search engine last September after stories circulated that the medieval prognosticator had predicted the attacks. The name topped such obvious references as "terrorism" or "WTC."
Over the months, dozens of rumors persisted: that one worker survived the trade center collapse by "riding" a steel beam through the mayhem; some saw Osama bin Laden's smoky silhouette in one photograph that made the popular rounds.
Now they're all part of the permanent "record".
"In the long run, the most significant effect of this do-it-yourself journalism might be its value to historians," the survey noted. "They will be able to see all kinds of stories, detail and data that might have been lost without a medium like the Internet." A lot of it falls in the "interesting if true" category much of it in the "too good to be true" category.
September 11 also whetted the appetite for real news among Internet users to the point that traffic at CNN and other print and broadcast news Web sites including washingtontimes.com increased by the thousand of times immediately after the attacks. The survey found that two-thirds of American users get their news online; another third said the attacks had increased the frequency of their news searches.
Government agencies also got in on the act. Three-quarters of them swiftly retooled their Web sites to include news, updates, emergency information and even political context for the events.
And what about fear of Big Brother? Among respondents in the Pew survey, 69 percent said the government should guard national security, even if it means keeping information from the public. However, 47 percent said that the government does not have the right to monitor their use of the Internet.

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