Osama bin Laden: The Live-Tweeting of His Death

There’s been a rise of “citizen journalists” whether from the bombed neighborhoods in Syria to the tornado ravaged mid-west towns in the U.S.

If you’re in the Tampa Bay region this Tuesday, you have an opportunity to hear from a “citizen journalist” who tweeted live about the raid on the Pakistani compound of Osama bin Laden.

At the time, Sohaib Athar was an IT consultant from Abbottabad, Pakistan. He didn’t know the Black Hawk helicopters he was hearing belonged to U.S. military forces. But, on May 2, 2011, he heard sounds – first helicopters and then an explosion – and started tweeting. It was only later that he learned that he was tweeting about raid that led to the death of the al-Qaeda leader.

There is some question whether Athar is a true “citizen journalist” because he just tweeted about hearing helicopters and an explosion, but Steve Myers, managing editor for Poynter.org, wrote a piece explaining his use of the term:

Here are the journalistic activities that Athar, aka @ReallyVirtual, demonstrated in his tweets during and after the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

He observed something unusual and told others about it. For example:

  • Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
  • A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S”

He answered questions from others seeking information. A Twitter user asked Athar, “@ReallyVirtual Hello sir, any update on the blasts? What has really happened?”

Athar answered: “@m0hcin all silent after the blast, but a friend heard it 6 km away too… the helicopter is gone too.”

Athar is the featured guest for “Tweeting Osama’s Death: From Citizen to Journalist” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 6, at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida. Myers will moderate the discussion with Athar.

To learn more about Athar’s tweets, you can read Myers’ article posted on May 3, 2011 and his defense of the “citizen journalist” term on May 5, 2011.

The event is free and open to the public thanks to the sponsorship of the Eckerd College Organization of Students and the Poynter Institute.

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