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Apparent suicide at Sembawang MRT station

Apparent suicide at Sembawang MRT station

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Never mind whether this is accurate; but guess who broke the news? Not professional reporters, but Twitter users.

By Terence Lee

Update: According to Alicia Wong of Yahoo! News, the man who jumped onto the tracks was arrested at the hospital for attempted suicide.

This photo came from a Twitter user. You can barely see a body being laid out on a stretcher. Photo: DYNNA SYAFIQA

I WAS shocked when an acquaintance tweeted that someone had supposedly committed suicide at Sembawang MRT station by jumping in front of the train on Friday night. After all, it was so close to home: My apartment is a mere ten minutes away from the train station.

Curious, I decided to check out the scene. By the time I arrived, it was 12.20am, just under an hour after the first tweet (that came around 11.30pm) said that an accident had happened. The commotion was long gone; the crowd mostly dispersed. A police vehicle was parked beside the station, and a handful of policemen were stationed at the ground level.

My attempts to ask the SMRT staff what happened were unsuccessful.

“An incident,” says a plump, Indian lady, standing guard at the entrance gate.

So I went up the escalator to the platform. Since the incident happened sometime ago, everyone appeared calm. A few people were waiting for the last train service to arrive on one side. On the other side leading to Yishun MRT station, a train is parked about one-quarter short of the end of the train station.

I saw a Chinese lady on the platform, carrying a notebook. At first I suspected she was a reporter, but after seeing the SMRT tag she was wearing, I concluded that she was also a staff member. I tried asking her what happened, but again she repeated the well-rehearsed line: “There was an incident.”

But another loud-mouthed personnel sort of gave it away. Talking on the phone, he mentioned something about a “body”, and I think he went on to describe what happened. I couldn’t make out the rest of his conversation though. Since I’m not exactly the very persistent sort (which is why I don’t really want to be a daily news reporter), I felt I was done over there.

According to Shawn Lee, a body was pulled out from under a train. This photo is taken by him.

Never mind. I later confirmed with an acquaintance of mine who said that she saw ambulance personnel scampering up the escalator soon after the collision. Also, you can see that in the photo at the top of this article, a stretcher was laid out in preparation for the extraction of a body. So there definitely was a person involved.

Anyone can become a reporter.

Put that photo and Shawn’s photo and tweets together, and a likely account emerges: A person was knocked down by the oncoming train, sucked underneath, and run over. But whether this was a suicide or accident is still unclear.

Whatever the case, this would be the second train mishap in a month. A couple of weeks ago, a Thai girl had her legs severed after being hit by a train at Ang Mo Kio MRT station.

Another interesting thing about this incident though is how Twitter has often become the fastest way of finding out the latest news. Already, about one hour after the incident, there were 20 tweets, some of them quite detailed, and with pictures to boot. This is not on the scale of the Iran protests of course, but it demonstrates how the role of reporters have started to change with the advent of social media.

In certain instances, journalists are no longer the foremost newsgatherers in the country, or the world. Shawn’s last tweet (left) is particularly telling.

Apparently, with a Twitter account and a smartphone, anyone can be a journalist, or a photojournalist even.

But does this spell the end of journalism as we know it? Nah.

It just signals that the role of journalists is changing, from that of a pure, pound-the-streets news gatherer to more of an information interpreter.

Someone has to make sense of all the tweets that come in, and establish whether this is a suicide or an accident. She would have to bug SMRT public relations for all the details today, and search for eyewitnesses. Later on, she would need to package the information into a viewer-friendly format, and establish the context.

And that someone is definitely not me, because I’m not paid and I have better things to do (such as my school project) than to pester people on a Saturday morning.

Of course, there are plenty of information out there that can only be obtained by experienced and trusted journalists who cultivate their sources, and that’s something I believe no citizen journalist can replicate to the same level of efficacy.

But who knows, I may be wrong. Anyway, below are some selected tweets that came up during the last few hours. Here’s my immediate reaction: It seems like such collisions have become so common that we have started treating them less as tragedies but more as spectacles.

Irritants, even.

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