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Russia: Online Forum Beats Media in Covering Night Club Fire

Fire at the night club “Khromaya Loshad” (Lame Horse) [RUS] in a central Russian city Perm killed more than 100 people. According to an official version, the fire was caused by fireworks inside the club. Within minutes after the tragedy, Russian Internet users turned to blogs, forums and social media sites to share information about the horrific event.

An lj user starina-klin, who lives next to the night club, reports [RUS] on what he can see from the window of his apartment. His updates are short and descriptive:

“Khromaya Loshad” is burning.
Apparently, there are some people inside. People outside run around without warm clothes, shout some names and constantly call someone on their mobile phones.

Looks like they put down the fire. They are taking people out of the club.

Dozens of bodies lie on the road. Rescuers walk among them trying to pick the ones who are not that hopeless. Occasionally, they drag someone to ambulances.

They surrounded the perimeter. They evacuate bodies.

A reporter in headphones and with camera – apparently professional one – tried to break the cordon. A man stood on his way: “Don't shoot video, my son died there. Don't shoot video!”

Another lj user from Perm kostyanus provides a long list [RUS] of updates from different sources mixing reports from Russian TV, recollections of victims and rumors about the tragedy. An lj community gorodperm (City of Perm) [RUS] is also filled with discussion and information about the fire.

However, it looks like the major online source of information about the tragedy was a local forum Teron.ru [RUS]. A victim of its sudden popularity, it crashed during the first few hours after the event due to thousands of people trying to access it at the same time. Teron.ru became the first place where people started to create a list of victims. The same forum was also a major source of information after a plane crash in Perm in September 2008 [ENG].

A member of Teron.ru Cleanol broke the story [RUS] at 1:47 a.m. (45 minutes after the tragedy) by mentioning a conversation he had with his friends via ICQ (online messaging program) who told him about the fire. Very soon, another user JeromShakur replied that he had been at the place of the tragedy and complained about ambulances that had arrived 15 minutes after the explosion. A user M.R. joined the discussion by publishing several pictures of the rescue efforts. He also wrote that he had helped in the evacuation of victims:

My role was to flip victims over on their sides and bend their knees. I don't know why but it is what the only doctor at that time told us to do.

There are only 50 percent of people alive. I determined that by their eye pupils… I used a flashlight. I did it so the police could help only those who are still alive.

2fiera, another member of the forum, added:

There are dead people and lots of them. A brother of my husband was there. He said they brought a lot of people out of the club and only two of them were alive.

User evgenis explains why many people died and dismisses any information about a possible explosion that was reported by local and international media:

I just talked to my friend. He was there with his company. Thank God they are alive. He says that there was no explosion and everything started burning because of fireworks. Many people were isolated from the exit and suffocated. :-(

In early morning, the forum user Temb)4 explained what had caused the fire:

The ceiling started burning because of the fireworks. I was inside. I am one of the club staff. It wasn't a terrorist attack. A lot of dead bodies…  Around 7o…
Unable to live with the smell of after-fire chemicals in their apartments, people who live in the area around the night club started relocating their families to other areas of the city. User Eras wrote:
I just took all my relatives out of the apartment complex. It's impossible to be inside. Everything smells like burned plastic…

A major Russia news Web site Lenta.ru [RUS] used  one of the pictures from Teron.ru forum for their coverage of the horrific event. All pictures from users of Teron.ru were picked up [RUS] by a popular Russian TV news program “Vesti” (News).

As seen from those examples, Teron.ru for the second time became a very important source for everyone who tried to get more information about the tragic event. There are several reasons why this particular online community was more useful for mainstream media than regular blogs and why it provided the most information about the tragedy.

Teron.ru already proved itself in the past as an important source when it became the major place online to get  information about  the plane crash in Perm a year ago. Unlike the blogosphere, the forum is a localized content platform revolving around a local community. It provides a framework for people living in Perm to share valuable  information.

Consequently, a major part of information is not just exchange of links and discussion, but updates from people who saw what happened with their own eyes or know something about what happen from reliable sources. Since the local online community is a relatively narrow group of people who know one another, the information tends to be more credible. Many of the forum members personally know people behind avatars and user names and often met  them in real life. Furthermore, many forum members are also familiar with the place where the fire happened – the night club was a popular spot in Perm – and are able to identify unreliable information immediately. It also seems that moderators of the forum are aware that the mainstream media use it as a source of information and that is why they tried to minimize the amount of posts with dubious accounts.

We can see that Russian mainstream media, although still cautious about Internet, use the information from the forum before their reporters arrived to the place of the tragedy. Also, many Internet users tend to use the forum as one of the major sources of information about the tragedy along with traditional forms of media.

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