Aug. 3--Chuck Olsen, of Minneapolis, was about to depart for Chicago on Wednesday when he heard about the Interstate 35W bridge collapse -- and rushed out with his high-definition camcorder to snag footage for the Web.
This is what Olsen, a top video blogger, does. But, to his surprise, he was among hundreds of onlookers using technology -- from high-definition cameras on fancy tripods to pocketcams and cell phones -- to capture the scene.
It was, he said, a seminal local moment in "citizen journalism," when ordinary people worked alongside big media outlets to document a major news event.
This raw content quickly found its way onto personal blogs and media-sharing sites, such as Flickr and YouTube, on Wednesday. By Thursday, some of it had rocketed to online superstardom, courtesy of links on top national sites and blogs such as Boing Boing.
Such citizen journalism, also seen during the London bombings and Southeast Asia tsunami, points to the increasing prevalence of personal recording equipment, said Dan Gillmor, head of the Center for Citizen Media.
"The minute something happens, people say, 'Aha, I'm here, and I can capture this,' " Gillmor said. "It's becoming routine to post, to send, to share, to tell stories."
Bridge collapse pictures snapped by Noah Kunin were among the most sought online because of where they were taken. The Minneapolis man says he's "the closest living human to the bridge" because of his residential complex, which is so close to the south side of the bridge that it has freeway billboards atop it.
Seconds after Kunin saw and felt the bridge collapse, he said, he had dual impulses: to assist and to record. He and his girlfriend spent tense minutes helping survivors off bridge wreckage. After that, out came Kunin's pocket digital camera.
He thought his pictures might prove priceless for analysis of why the bridge collapsed, as well as to determine what happened to victims, so he snapped as many as he could.
Unable to upload images to the Internet before being told to evacuate his loft, he had to rely on buddies to get his pictures online to his blog and a related Flickr page, which became top e-destinations Wednesday and Thursday.
Kunin had company on Flickr. The photo-sharing site, useful for its tagging system that can collect images from multiple sources under joint headings, saw more than 1,300 images with the tag "Minneapolis bridge collapse" appear by Thursday afternoon.
These included images from Michael Shappe, of Richfield, who was on the Minneapolis Queen riverboat on a work-related excursion upriver when the bridge collapsed.
Shappe remembers "slipping into a journalistic mindset" with his digital camera.
"I was here to record that this was happening and not necessarily to do anything about it," he said. "There was nothing I could do."
Besides, he said, focusing on his picture-taking helped him "keep from being an emotional wreck. I didn't know who was up there." He later learned no one he knew had been killed or injured.