Yulsman also acknowledged the lingering sway of traditional sources of information. Not everyone in Colorado is on Twitter, after all. Case in point: Yulsman wrote a post on his personal blog and linked to some satellite photos of the area affected by the fire. He said when he tweeted the link and put it on Facebook, the hits on that page went up from a daily average of about 250 to more than 2,000. Then someone at the local news television station, 9 News, saw it and linked to it from 9News.com; over the next three days, Yulsman’s blog post had 20,000 page views.* So social media promotion certainly gave his blog a boost, but in the end, what really drove traffic was still mainstream media.
It’s interesting that the Fourmile Fire—a case study of sorts in the changing ways media reports on fast-breaking news—has been playing out at the same time as the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder undergoes a kind of existential crisis. Reports have come out in the past few weeks that the school is considering closing its journalism program in order to facilitate a massive restructuring and modernization.
The politics of academia have no doubt inspired a healthy debate between the old guard and the new, highlighting a fundamental difference in philosophy between the ink-stained and the digitized. Far from bringing those two sides to a consensus, though, the occasion of the Fourmile Canyon Fire seems to have reinforced the divide. The most vocal social media proponents see their crowdsourcing efforts as a wake-up call for traditional media. But those mainstream media outlets are holding their ground: not because their reporters are already overworked, but because of their dedication to accuracy and context. They maintain that the risks to their credibility and to their readers’ well-being far outweigh the risk of diminishing their traffic, and their relevance, online.
*[Update: this paragraph previously misstated the number of page views Yulsman’s blog post got after he promoted it via social media. It has since been corrected.]