A first-hand account from the ‘golden hour’

One of the many photos taken by Northeastern University journalism student Taylor Dobbs after the Boston Marathon bombing. Photo/Taylor Dobbs

I was home in New Hampshire on Monday, so when I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing I turned to Twitter to find out what was happening. One of the first things I noticed was a string of tweets from Taylor Dobbs, an undergraduate student I’ve gotten to know through Northeastern University’s journalism program.

Taylor lives fairly close to the marathon course, and he sprinted out the door when he heard the explosions. In the hours that followed, he became a textbook example of how a modern journalist should behave in the hours after a disaster. He got close, but not close enough to jeopardize his safety or block emergency response teams. He shared only what he saw or was able to confirm. No rumors, no speculation. He thrived in what Mark Little calls the “golden hour” — “the time it takes social media to create either an empowering truth or an unstoppable lie.” With photos and 140-character dispatches, Taylor told the truth of the chaos around him.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed his good work. The BBC interviewed him several times Monday afternoon and, by Tuesday, he’d agreed to produce a piece for Medium — a new digital publication led by one of the founders of Blogger. You can see it here. (More photos are available on Taylor’s blog.)

Taylor calls this style of story a “photo/essay” — a term I hope will catch on.  The idea is simple: large photos, a few tight sentences and white space. Think of it as a more elegant, more serious and more structured version of those “15 faces your cat makes” features on BuzzFeed. It’s the perfect use of the web really, one that capitalizes on its visual strengths while remaining clean, tight and readable.

It’s not unusual for major news events to bring new storytelling tools to the forefront.  If they’re used with the same care and professionalism Taylor applied to his photo/essay, I think that’s a good thing for the evolution of journalism.