NEW YORK – The video was grainy, shaky but undeniably compelling: passengers standing in the aisle of a subway car, its windows shattered following one of the coordinated explosions in London.
It was the first time several U.S. television executives could recall using video taken from a cellular phone during coverage of a major story, no doubt a harbinger of things to come.
"It was a clip that we used no more than two, three thousand times," joked John Moody (search), Fox News Channel senior vice president. The video taken by a commuter first aired on Britain's Sky News, a Fox sister station.
News stations have increasingly relied on amateur video to help tell major stories like last December's tsunami. But as more people get cellular phones with video capability, it's much more likely that a bystander at an unexpected news event will be carrying a phone instead of a video camera.
"I think you're looking at a portend of things to come," said NBC News President Neal Shapiro (search).
When he heard about Thursday's explosions, London-based Sandy MacIntyre (search), director of news for Associated Press Television News, said the first thing he told his staff was that someone must have cellular phone or video footage.
Staff members were instructed to ask any witnesses if they had any pictures, he said. Cellular phones, particularly those with video capabilities, are more common in Europe than in the United States at this point, he said.
British television networks ran notices instructing viewers to send in any video they had taken, he said.
APTN distributed the Sky News video to many U.S. television networks. The agency also spotted a still photo of a subway blast victim taken by a cell phone and posted on the Internet, and interviewed the person who was pictured.
MacIntyre said he also paid about $250 to acquire amateur video of the stricken double-decker bus, taken before emergency vehicles arrived.
The amateur video is valuable to television networks because it conveyed a real sense of what was going on, said Chuck Lustig, ABC News director of foreign news coverage.
"It took the viewer to an event as the event was happening and that's always something that's astonishing," Lustig said. "We're all used to looking at aftermath material."
While the video is important, it also requires news organizations to take care in checking its veracity; the potential for hoaxes is there, particularly as a market grows, said Jonathan Klein, CNN's U.S. chief.
Klein also predicted it will become a more important part of coverage in major news events.
"No question about it," he said. "There's been a lot of talk in terms of the increased democratization of the news media relating to blogs and the like. This is another example of the citizen journalist."
Television networks lengthened morning news shows and aired special reports of the attack on Thursday. The story also cut short vacations: CNN's Lou Dobbs, Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn returned from breaks to work, as did Fox's Bill O'Reilly. Ben Sherwood, ABC "Good Morning America" executive producer, prepared to hustle to London from Paris, which he was visiting with his family.
In another glimpse of the future, NBC chief anchor Brian Williams worked for several hours of MSNBC as Katie Couric extended her "Today' show presence into the afternoon. Shapiro said he wants to use more of NBC's top talent on the cable news network during big stories.