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In the hours following Wednesday’s commuter plane crash in New York City, an anxious nation waited…Was this the start of another 9/11?

We turned on the 24-hour news networks. We scoured the Web for information. We were desperate for information.

As reports filtered in, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, as it became apparent this was simply one of life’s cruel accidents, one that killed Major League Baseball player Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger.

While tragedy is the worst type of news hook–after all, there are families and love ones who are mourning the very public loss of these two young men–the day’s events did give us a glimpse at how our world and its media have changed in just a few short years.

Fox News aired footage of the crash site, live, that one of its cameramen recorded with his Treo smart phone. While other stations were using aerial shots from traffic helicopters, Scott Wilder was recording the scene from the ground, using his smart phone to record–and deliver–video back to the news room.

This isn’t exactly citizen journalism at work, but it’s a giant step in that direction. With the proliferation of smart phones and other networked video-recording devices, it won’t be long before networks have given average citizens a place to contribute to the reporting process.

From the Reuters story:

Wilder’s work represents one of the first instances of a network using video captured via mobile phone camera live on the air. Fox News has experimented with the practice several times in recent weeks with CometVision, software designed by Ohio-based Comet Video Technologies.

It’s not difficult to see that networks will begin to lean on their citizens for assistance in news coverage. In our world, people want information immediately. With the proliferation of smart phones–Palm just announced a new, cheaper smart phone and Nokia announced price cuts on its phones–a simple backend system, such as the one Fox News has created, opens up great possibilities for reporters.

And with the growing number of location-based applications developed for mobile phones, it’s not difficult to envision a day when citizens can sign up for a service that allows them to be alerted when a breaking news event is occurring near their location. It’s a centralized, smart mob–volunteer reporters ready to spring into action in a manner similar to News Cloud.

Are we at the beginning of citizen journalism yet? Not quite. But we’re closer today than we were five years ago, and the tipping point for this type of service–on a national level–appears just around the corner.

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