In the early morning, as professional media scrambled to cover the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO, the most comprehensive and up-to-date source of information wasn't a news site or a TV station. It was a series of posts on Reddit, the social news site, written by a user named "integ3r."
The original post, which grew beyond Reddit's character limit and has so far spilled into two more, is an exhaustive, minute-by-minute account of the development of the story, from the earliest indications that something horrible had happened to the emergence of a cohesive narrative. The post fuses together reports from traditional media, updates from a police scanner, and posts from social media — including Reddit, where a victim of the shooting posted images of his wounds. Integ3r, whose post is at the top of Reddit right now, has inarguably contributed more to the early understanding of this tragedy than any other single person.
Int3ger, whose real name is Morgan Jones, is a college-bound 18-year-old who lives at home in the Denver area. Jones told BuzzFeed FWD that he was up playing the fantasy-themed video game Oblivion in his bedroom, when he first heard about the news.
"I get updates from 9 News [a local television station) on Facebook, and I get a comment that says 'we're investigating shootings at a movie theater.'
The earliest reports were unclear and lacked detail, but Jones gleaned from comments on his Facebook that the shooting had likely taken place at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and that there had likely been at least ten fatalities. "I was a little bit afraid," says Jones, "since some of my friends live in Aurora." (As far as he knows, his friends are fine.)
He posted a link to the story on Reddit — he was the first — and began posting updates, pulling in new information, correcting old information, and addressing questions from other users. By virtue of speed, his familiarity with the area, and the promotion other users, he fast became the go-to source in the story. "I stayed up all night, and I am exhausted now," says Jones, "but it feels like I'm helping out people who need to know this stuff."
Social media is now integral to any breaking news story, and sometimes even defines the story — Americans' view of political unrest in Iran and Syria, for example, was largely defined by self-organized group of Twitter and Facebook users.
But the particular utility of Reddit is a new, powerful development. Reddit, despite no central controlling mechanism or formal editorial structure, was able to provide citizens with information about the shooting in a way that traditional news organizations could not — in fact, it informed the media's coverage. Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian told BuzzFeed FWD, "it comes down to the mechanism that powers the front page and the comments alike. That algorithm (we're open source - it's public! - I'm shocked no one copies it) that [we] engineered." This, he says, it what allows the most valuable information to rise into view — as was the case when a shooting victim posted photos of his gunshot wounds deep down in a comment thread.
Jones, an unlikely reporter, is just glad he could help. "This whole thing has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me," he says, "but it's liberating to be able to inform so many people so rapidly."