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Eckerd Hosts Sohaib Athar, Citizen Journalist Who Tweeted the Raid on Osama Bin Laden

posted on 03/19/2012

Sohaib Athar

Sohaib Athar, IT consultant from Abbottabad, Pakistan, was unaware that the Black Hawk helicopters he heard on Monday, May 2, 2011, were U.S. military operatives raiding Osama bin Ladenís compound. He live-tweeted about the sounds of the helicopters and an explosion and learned only later that the commotion had led to the death of the al-Qaeda leader.

Athar will be the featured guest at "Tweeting Osama's Death: From Citizen to Journalist" at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 6, in Eckerd College's Fox Hall. Heralded by some as a citizen journalist, at the time he was unaware that he was communicating with the world about one of the most impactful events in modern times. Less than 24 hours after tweeting about the raid, he became hounded by the media and saw his followers on Twitter jump from about 750 to 86,000.

Steve Myers, managing editor for Poynter.org, the website of the Poynter Institute, will moderate the discussion with Athar. Myers routinely writes about different ways news travels between traditional news organizations and emerging information sources, and he closely monitored the release of information from Athar via Twitter. To learn more about Athar's role in communicating about the raid, read Myers' article posted on Poynter.org May 3, 2011. Myers also addressed the debate as to whether Athar was, in fact, acting as a "citizen journalist," in a May 5, 2011, article posted on Poynter.org.

Through their discussion, Athar and Myers will discuss the events of May 2, 2011, Atharís role in the release of information, and what it means to be a citizen journalist. The event, sponsored by the Eckerd College Organization of Students and the Poynter Institute, is free and open to the public.

Editor's note: Greg Johnson '15, who attended the program, briefly summarizes some of Athar's comments at the talk:

Around 1:30 am local time, Athar began to report on the commotion in the usually quiet town of Abbottabad:

Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)

Athar continued to tweet his observations throughout the night, and correcting rumors as more information became available. Twitter is often a more reliable gateway to information than the official media in Pakistan, which is regulated heavily by the government. Athar says there are no major media outlets located near Abbottabad. "I was just trying to see what could have happened because I knew the media story would most likely not be the whole truth."

It was not for hours later, when President Obama made a late night press conference to announce that bin Laden had been killed, that the significance of his tweets became clear:

Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.

At the event, Myers asserted that Sohaib Athar is indeed a citizen journalist, not simply because he tweeted the Osama bin Laden raid, but because of his actions afterwards. After realizing the magnitude of his tweets, Athar photographed bin Laden's compound and opened up to public comment. Additionally, Athar conducted his own interviews with families living near bin Laden's compound about their experiences living there and on the May 2, 2011, events that led to bin Laden's death.

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