Journalist uncovers story behind viral photograph of underground fire

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(Photo by: Stephanie Sands)

Recently, a columnist for The Omaha World-Herald tracked down an almost unreal photograph to its original source after it had become an internet sensation.

Because many things these days are altered with photo-editing software, he wanted to get to the original source to get the story behind the photo. Simply by looking at the photograph, finding information from social media websites such as Reddit and traveling to the source, he uncovered who had taken the photo and the events that had happened that day from her account. Matthew Hanson’s column shows what steps he took to finally getting to the bottom of the story.

The photograph shows an underground fire that had cut the power in downtown Omaha last month. A manhole was bursting with flames on the streets next to cars. While the picture snapped made it seem like there were multiple manhole fires in a row down the street, the columnist later learned that there was only one; the others in the picture were caused by reflections from the wet streets below.

An article by The New York Times pointed out that Hanson was paid to do the story, and so it is somewhat comforting to know that there are still people paid to fact-check information in a world that sometimes does not care whether or not things are real.

The college student took the viral photo from her iPhone. Both articles uncover many different evolving forms of media. I think this shows just how essential mobile forms of media are becoming, and also the roles an ordinary citizen can play in creating what the people talk about, whether real or fake. We cannot completely trust social media and should not take in information without skepticism. However, many people still do. While the role of ordinary people is becoming more prominent in journalism today, professional journalists can still do their job by making sure that this information is not fabricated. The internet can become a great place to find information if both ordinary citizens on the scene and journalists who might arrive too late work together to create fascinating and true stories.

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