Twitter Reporter

On July 12,2006,a day after serial blasts aboard the suburban railway threw a shocked hush over Mumbai...

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Published: February 23, 2009 4:18:05 am

Technology will refine the citizen journalist’s role,says the man whose pictures of 26/11 were viewed by thousands within the first few hours of the attack

On July 12,2006,a day after serial blasts aboard the suburban railway threw a shocked hush over Mumbai,Vinukumar Ranganathan recounted on his blog how mobile networks were jammed on his way home the earlier evening. “…But the GPRS was working and we were checking news in the car from our own site…,” he wrote. He wasn’t to know it then,but over two years later,the young software engineer who designs and sells innovative solutions in the mobile and messaging sphere for a living was to play a more active role in reporting news from the site of a terror attack.

For 27-year-old Vinu,the November 26,2008,attacks began with “two loud bangs” he heard from rather close quarters as he was winding up for the day at his Colaba home. Minutes later,there was a ticker on television about an attack at nearby Chhatrapti Shivaji Terminus,but what he surmised as blasts,were certainly closer than CST. “I grabbed my camera and headed out,” he says,recollecting the details of what was his busiest night yet,his first as a serious citizen journalist and one he will remember vividly for a long,long time.

The scene outside — Vinu lives close to the Colaba fire station,barely a few hundred metres away form Nariman House — was chaotic. “I kept clicking,not really looking for great shots,just capturing everything I could,” he says,almost three months later. The policemen were mostly “clueless”,he remembers,fewer than one might expect,and not all of them armed. “Anyway,for the first several minutes,nobody was quite sure what had happened,where the terrorists had gone or why. It was a foreigner I bumped into who told me Israelis live in the building behind the one he lives in.”

He shot the small pools of blood outside the petrol pump that had seen a grenade attack,people trying to get away,policemen trying to move the onlookers out of the area. Vinu himself wasn’t asked to clear off — “I guess they thought because of my camera that I was a journalist” — and he kept clicking until well past midnight.

Memory cards exhausted,he returned home and promptly put some 112 photographs on Flickr,the online photo sharing site that he has been active on since its inception. More photos followed in the subsequent days. In his own words,his photos “rocketed through blogosphere,Tworld”,the latter being the hyper-connected Twitter community across the world that was,for the first time in an Indian terror attack,consuming raw news as it was happening,live and relayed unedited by an untrained but live-on-the-spot citizen journalist.

Twitter users were tapping out short status reports from across the city— blood needed,donors available,friends who made it out safely,others who were stuck inside one of the sites of the siege. Vinu’s own photos on Flickr were spotted by a foreign news channel,whose reporters called him later for updates,asking him to describe the situation in the cut-off Colaba market area.

“I see this really evolving,” says the crack software engineer in him who otherwise turns his nose up at some kinds of citizen journalism he sees today. “News,perhaps collected by unskilled folk,will be a huge source of raw material for mainstream media agencies to tap into. Once 3G comes in,it will actually be affordable to send live photographs and even videos from cellphones to people across the world.” The firm he works with,Netcore Solutions Pvt Ltd,runs the MyToday system that’s already delivering 350 million text messages each month to over 11 million subscribers across various information channels including news. His own Flickr photographs got more than 1.5 lakh views in the first few days.

A huge DVD and travel buff,the terror attacks have also turned him introspective. As he wrote on his blog after 7/11: “But this is what I will have to say from what the city has seen — the riots,the series of blasts in 1993,blasts here and there over the last years,the heavy rainfall and now these blasts — people will keep going. Last thing we want to do is give in now…”

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