Citizen journalists report on the London whale

The whole of London (and bits of the rest of the world, it seems) has been following the story of the whale that managed to find itself lost in our river Thames.

Much has been made of the role of the public in reporting this story. It's a good example because it happened in a public space, and even though the public couldn't match the helicopters of the TV news crews, the public outnumbered the media in terms of numbers of people on the banks of the Thames trying to spot the whale. The public were also directly involved in the story, by helping to 'shoo' the whale away from shallow waters, and reporting the sightings in the first place.

I helped Wikinews cover the story, breaking the news of the first sighting at 15:46 on Friday (20th Jan 2006). Over the course of the weekend, I helped Wikinews to generate four articles on the developments of the whale (so far):

The articles are of varying quality. Saturday morning, as the rescue attempt started, I reported on the live TV commentary, which qualifies the article as 'original reporting' (just about). I was also pleased to quote eyedropper's 'fact' 'if the whale should die it would be up to Admiral the Lord Boyce GCB OBE 'to arrange for a tooth to be extracted and sent to the Natural History Museum, and a proper burial to be made', even though I couldn't verify the information directly.

Wikipedia has also produced an article on the story ('River Thames whale'), created at 19:24, about three and a half hours after Wikinews. The Wikipedia article is, though, more substantial, with more background facts and a better account of the minutae of the events. The Wikipedia article and Wikinews articles were interlinked fairly well.

In the mainstream media, Sky were apparently the first to pick up on the story, with BBC News 24 soon following on. Both channels invited the public to send in amateur footage and photos, with the BBC homepage carrying a call-to-action promo.

Plenty of bloggers couldn't resist commenting on the story, including the Guardian news blog (Forget the whale: what about the lamprey?). A PR company was also quick to set up a whole blog on the whale. They managed a few half decent snaps, a TV appearance for their 'editor' and a whole load of mentions for their company name. They claim to be 'donating proceeds from use of images to wildlife charity WWF' though (if they got any proceeds that is), so I won't accuse them of being too cynical, if a little obvious.

The BBC have-your-say page on the whale has, at the time of writing, managed to attract 87 comments, with the most-recommended one currently being 'I hope this is being broadcast in Japan and Norway, so they can relfect [sic] on how these creatures should be respected' by a Mr Tim Wicks.

There were also hundreds of whale photos posted to Flickr, which tell the story very nicely.

All in all, a good few days for citizen journalism, if not so great for the whale. Will Sunday be a day of mourning?