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iReports 2008: Caught on Tape

Aired December 27, 2008 - 20:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Don Lemon here in Atlanta. Here's what's happening right now. Snow, rain, slush, a nasty mixed bag of winter weather across the entire U.S.
Warmer temperatures in normally snow bound Chicago have created flooding and temps are also climbing in parts of the Pacific Northwest which has been buried in as much as a foot of snow in some areas.

Forecasters hope there won't be any major flooding. Believe it or not, some people are enjoying the season and not just people. Check out Lori the sled dog form Springfield, Wisconsin. Her owner Terry Anderson (ph) sent us this iReport and I think we are looking at an Olympic contender here don't you think.

And check out the pictures from Lisa Pace in Upstate New York. This was no rainbow. This is a snow bow. Lisa says the snow in the air that day was free floating and thin. And that's what caused the snow bow. Very interesting.

All right. I'm Don Lemon. Now to a CNN special. It's called "iReports 2008, Caught on Camera."

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: You might call it the year user generated content became synonymous with one catchword, iReport.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Hundreds of thousands of you submitted news you caught on camera this year to

HOLMES: From Issue Number One to extreme weather and international conflicts and much, much more. This is "iReport 2008, Caught on Camera".

Hello, everybody, I'm T.J. Holmes.

NGUYEN: Hello, I'm Betty Nguyen.

And we do want to begin with the biggest story of the year, America Votes 2008.

HOLMES: No matter who you voted for in the presidential election, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, November 4th, 2008 will go down as one of the biggest moments in American history.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old, will be the president-elect of the United States. HOLMES (voice-over): From Chicago's Grant Park to Harlem. To Africa. To Sierra Leone, Africa, to Times Square.

To San Francisco, California. To Italy. To Antarctica. To New York's Union Square. Thousands gathered including a first time iReporter David Massenheimer who captured the crowd spontaneously erupt into a rendition of the national anthem.

DAVID MASSENHEIMER, IREPORTER: I knew it was special as it was happening. I was giggling inside. Oh, my God, I got this from the beginning.

HOLMES: Capturing a piece of history in your own way. And that's what people wanted it to be, they wanted it to be personal. By having their own cameras, they made it that.

This was the first election everywhere where iReporters could ask anything that was on his or her mind. iReporter Jimmy Deol from Canada got the chance to do just that.

JIMMY DEOL, IREPORTER: I asked Barack Obama the most important question that he would have to contemplate before the election. And that question is who is going to be his vice presidential nominee.

BLITZER: I prepare a lot of questions for all of our newsmakers and I prepare a lot going into these major interviews, but I've got to tell you, every time we solicited iReport questions, it made the interview a lot better.

HOLMES: Sixteen-year-old veteran iReporter Trevor Dougherty documented his own piece of history after snaking his way at the Democratic National Convention.

TREVOR DOUGHERTY, IREPORTER: This is Trevor from the Democratic National Convention.

I saw the security guy going towards the stage, but I just got behind him and followed him as he weaved through so I ended up being right with the press corps, touching the stage.

HOLMES: At Invesco Field, Trevor asked CNN's Anderson Cooper his thoughts on citizen journalism.

DOUGHERTY: What did you think of citizen journalism and how it's changing CNN and politics and journalism in general?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Someone who started as a citizen journalist, I'm all for it.

HOLMES: On Election Day, Americans turned out in record numbers and even Mickey and Minnie Mouse got in on the action.

Then they turned to iReport to share their experiences with the world. On Election Day, received the most amount of reports they had ever received in one day. From around the country, iReports flooded the Web site with picks and video documenting their experiences.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People lined up at 5:00 in the morning to close for two hours and 15 minutes. And we have been here for several hours. So I'm done. I'm finished. I voted for my candidate. Man, this feels great. I love voting.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: This has never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America.


HOLMES (on camera): Of course the right to assemble peacefully is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

NGUYEN: But during the past election, hundreds of thousands chose to exercise that right to have views and concerns heard. Often, the peaceful protests turned chaotic and CNN iReporters were witnesses to the action.


NGUYEN (voice-over): From Democrats in Denver, Colorado to Republicans in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Party members came out to nominate their presidential pick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You put my baby in danger, you are going to have to account to me.

NGUYEN: So did protesters who wanted their voices heard just as loud, if not louder. Protests usually starts peaceful and nonviolent, but sometimes a splinter out of control when rogue groups break off on their own agenda.

There were approximately 150 arrests made in Denver and over 700 arrests made in Saint Paul where CNN iReporters were on the scene to capture every rant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our flag. This is our country.

NGUYEN: Rave and request.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?

CROWD: Health care!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we want it?


NGUYEN: iReporter Corrine McDermott from the citizen journalist Web site found herself in the middle of a police standoff on the streets of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Corrine was there when cops opened fire and tear gas filled the air.

CORRINE MCDERMOTT, UPTAKE.ORG: I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe that this level of response and police tactics is actually going on. I can't believe I actually caught this.

COOPER: We are always going to have reporters and we're always going to send our crews to a story, but to have people who are there with the presence of mind to point their cameras and start taking pictures, to start sending images and to start telling the stories they are seeing all around them or their own stories is I think an important thing.

NGUYEN: So important that 17-year-old iReporter Dean Lawrence began filming while being pushed back by Nassau County mounted police at the final presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Members of the group, Iraq Veterans Against the War demanded access to the debate and to have their concerns heard.

DEAN LAWRENCE, IREPORTER: The crowd was getting a little unruly and people yelling and fighting with the police officers. There were some incidents with police on horses and people getting thrown around by them. So it was scary, but it was also exciting to get into the atmosphere. Where so many people were so passionate about the election.


HOLMES: The election results brought some controversy as well, especially in California on Proposition 8. California voters passed Prop 8 which essentially banned gay marriage in a state that had just legalized it.

NGUYEN: Yeah, and the feedback was fierce. iReports quickly piled in. Both sides drawing lines in the sand.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Proposition 8. A ballot measure that would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman only has been passed by the voters of California.

NGUYEN (voice-over): And Californians spoke out passionately on both sides of the issue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you out here right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To support traditional marriage and my family. My kids.

CROWD: Equal rights now. Equal rights now. Equal rights now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't believe in man and man. We believe in mom and dad.

LEMON: We have used iReporters in many ways. And we have benefited from it as Americans. Because we get see it the way Americans see it and not the way the media wants to portray it. CROWD: Church and state, separate!


HOLMES: And we see iReports on just about every big story that's out there.

NGUYEN: But there is just one story, only one, that is impacting every single American.


NGUYEN: Issue Number One, America's economy front and center this year and likely to stay in the spotlight for sometime to come.

HOLMES: We talk of bailouts, we talk of buyouts, mergers, meltdowns and of course America's fuel crisis. CNN's Money team were all over it and so were our iReporters.


HOLMES (voice-over): It's the story consuming a nation. Because everyone in the United States is part of it. "Issue #1," the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's going to take a lot of time for us to come back and actually rebuild what has been torn down.

HOLMES: It all starts with the American dream. Gone bad. Countless bad loans led to the mortgage melt down. As loans failed, credit tightened. As credit tightened, banks began to fail.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN EDITOR: Folks are worried and concerned their money will not be there when they need it.

HOLMES: And then after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, perhaps one of the most controversial stories of 2009, the $700 billion bail out of struggling financial institutions.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people angry about the bailout and where their money, their taxpayer money was going and wondering why some people were being bailed out and not others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No more credit, no more bailouts.

HOLMES: But the bailout talk didn't end there. Next stop? Detroit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we let the auto industries go under, there goes our economy.

HOLMES: All of this leaving more and more and Americans, nearly seven percent, out of work and desperate for answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go to the phones. Jackie in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Jackie, what's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is, I bought a house and my husband lost his job seven or months ago. We are going down on the mortgage.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you actually hear someone's voice or see their face and you understand they are not asking you a general question about the economy. They are giving you their desperation. If we can actually help individuals with their problems, other individuals will find help in that same problem.

HOLMES: But the hottest topic for every day Americans took place during the heat of the summer. Gas prices. Above $4 a gallon.

VELSHI: Now look where we are. $141.71 is where oil hit just this morning.

HOLMES: iReporters captured the frustration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are waiting in line. Some as much as 45 minutes to an hour to get gas for $3.79.

WILLIAM BERNSTEIN JR., IREPORTER: The one person I talked to said half of their paycheck went to gas for their car. So you think what did the other half go to? When you pay all the bills, what's left?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as you can see, no gas at these pumps as well.

GARY BERMAN, IREPORTER: The gas prices were shooting up and people would fill up in anticipation it is going up higher tomorrow or the next week.

All of a sudden several gas stations as I was passing by, when I needed gas, didn't have gas. What is going on?

VELSHI: When people hear there shortages, and when it goes out over the airwaves that there is a shortage of something, including gas, that gets people panicked.


NGUYEN: Well, high prices were tough to swallow, but sometimes humor is what we need.

HOLMES (on camera): You have to laugh to keep from crying sometimes.

NGUYEN: That's true.

HOLMES: Check it out.



VELSHI: For all of history, songs and jokes are ways of dealing with tough times.


VELSHI: I think it's how people share and it's how people feel a little stronger.

ROMANS: Give people a camera from a crisis, and they commiserate but they're also getting really creative.


ROMANS: How many times can you go on and talk about gas prices are up, gas prices are up?

It makes it so much easier to illustrate the story when you've got these little ditties people are putting together.



HOLMES: I've got three words for you now. The first one, we've got hurricanes. The next, we've got wildfires. Last but not least we've got floods.

NGUYEN: iReporters taking you to the frontlines.


NGUYEN: Winds up to 145 miles per hour, damages totaling more than $30 billion, but it was your iReports that caught the true power of Hurricane Ike.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. I cannot if that was the tornado sirens. OK. That's the tornado sirens. We need to get inside. Right now. Go, go, go.

NGUYEN (voice-over): Few weather events had the impact of a hurricane. The deadly storms take both a physical and emotional toll.

COOPER: Our shot tonight is that, a remarkable photo and shows a solitary home in the wake of Hurricane Ike's massive destruction around Gilchrist, Texas. Somehow, this home appears to have survived.

It's during a hurricane or a natural disaster like that that really iReports become incredibly important. Because they are able to be in places, the iReporters, the citizen journalists are able to be in places and in their homes and places that we can't necessarily get to sometimes that are completely cutoff and they are able to inform everyone else around them in their communities and the global community, really, through CNN, about what's happening in that one little slice of the storm.

It's remarkable, Pam, when you look at this and the fact that it is standing when all of your neighbor's homes have just vanished. That has got to be a bizarre feeling.

PAM ADAM, IREPORTER: Yes, it is a bizarre feeling. It's a beautiful home and we worked real hard to get that home looking the way it does. And it's amazing that it's sitting out there by itself.

NGUYEN: In the heart of the storm, CNN coverage is enhanced by iReporters also on the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Jackson, Florida. The waves continue to crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see this. This is one road. There is three houses in a row where like three 30 foot trees have fallen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this surge is just incredible.


NGUYEN (on camera): So from too much water to not nearly enough, thousands forced to evacuate and hundreds of homes burned. When wildfires hit California our iReporters were there in the heat of the moment.



STIG CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, IREPORTER: That was within maybe a couple of hundred yards of the fire.

How are they going to get this under control.

NGUYEN (voice-over): The pacific coast burning. Three separate fires reaching from Orange County north to Santa Barbara. Over 40,000 acres.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The most amazing thing about covering the fires, how it's just an assault on the sense. You see the planes, you can feel the heat, you can actually taste the smoke when you are breathing it in. It's just an amazing thing.

ANDERSEN: The winds were gusting somewhere up in 60 to 70 miles an hour. It was kind of terrifying in a way.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now they are saying between 100 and 200 homes were lost because of this fire and it was an amazing firestorm last night. A lot of times it's not as easy to tell that, whoa, this is dangerous. This time it was pretty clear to everybody. This is dangerous and we have got to get out.

NGUYEN: Thirty thousand California residents forced to leave homes. From mobile homes to multi-million dollar mansions, over 900 homes destroyed.


NGUYEN (on camera): When massive flooding engulfed the Midwest this summer, iReports gave us reports on every affected area. More than 60 percent of the iReports received during the floods aired on various platforms and families displaced and possessions lost and the fight to rebuild lives and sometimes returning home after a natural disaster is the hardest part.


ANDREW SHERBURNE, IREPORTER: You want me to read you the definition of disaster? Disaster, any happening that causes great harm or damage, serious or sudden misfortune.

NGUYEN (voice-over): iReporter Andrew Sherburne knows disaster firsthand.

SHERBURNE: It was shocking to paddle up to the house and see it halfway submerged in the water.

NGUYEN: From iReporter to CNN reporter, Ed Lavendera spent two weeks in the flood zone, traveling home with residents as the waters began to recede.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really sad. It's a beautiful old house with the woodwork and hard oak floors. You can't buy houses like these houses are built. And it's so sad that the floors will probably be ruined. But it's only a structure.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have been with so many people in that initial moment where they are opening up the door. And they don't know what they are about to see. And almost to a person it is always worse than what they imagined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You rearrange your expectations and you think a couple inches in our house is not going to be a big deal. And then we're like, oh, it's OK if we get a few inches and it's like it's OK if we get two feet. Now we are just praying that our house doesn't wash away.


HOLMES: Some of biggest drama took place on the other side of the world. We will show you images you never would have seen if it weren't for iReports.


NGUYEN: iReporters help us see stories around the world, giving us rare insight. Right now you are looking at some of them featuring the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while the wars are still making news, other areas of the world have been making some pretty big headlines as well.

HOLMES: None much bigger than Mumbai. You can start there. The day before Thanksgiving in the U.S. terrorists attacked tourist areas in India's financial capital. This is where iReporters bring us inside a story in a way few others can.


HOLMES (voice-over): iReporters Mark and Tabitha Jansen (ph) shoot this vacation video of Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel. Just two days later - the Taj and six other locations in Mumbai attacked and overrun by terrorists. Melody George heard booming sounds coming from the train station near her hotel and headed for the hotel lobby.

MELODY GEORGE, IREPORTER: The lights were turned off and people were sort of gathered around the television and it appeared they locked the doors to make sure no one could come in if the terrorists were still roaming the city.

HOLMES: CNN's Andrew Stevens was in Mumbai reporting on the growing Indian economy.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we got to the Oberoi Hotel, we were literally, had the indicator on turning to go into the front entrance and the doors burst open and people came panicking. It's the only way to describe it. Panicking, running out, fleeing into the streets.

ANDREA ALBERGO, IREPORTER: I had breakfast at the Taj and my boyfriend and I had discussed staying at the Taj that night because it was such a nice hotel that we may have been there that night if we had decided to do that.

HOLMES: iReporter Andrea Albergo shot these pictures the morning after the attacks. She says the streets, normally busy and crowded, were eerily empty.

The attacks were a reminder for some iReporters.

YAMIR BHATT, IREPORTER: The terrorist attack in Mumbia is evidence that terrorism is still a growing problem.

HOLMES: For others the attacks were a life-changing tragedy. Aaron Butler had pictures of his sister and stepfather, Naomi and Alan Sheer (ph) and he knew they were in the Oberoi Hotel when the terrorists struck and asked for any information about them.

A later iReport confirmed the grim reality. We know that Naomi and Alan had been killed in the Oberoi Cafe. iReporters shared in his sadness.

Jill in Atlanta wrote, "This Web site created a family and we feel for your loss."

It is a grief shared by families of nearly 180 people killed and those around the world who realized that the threat of terror is still very much alive.


HOLMES: We turn to Africa now. Violence erupts after Kenya votes for a new president.

NGUYEN: The day after the election turned to chaos across the country and it is all captured on camera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NGUYEN (voice-over): Kenya erupts, the presidential election explodes into violence, turning one of Africa's most stable countries into a war zone. iReporter Jane Samuels was volunteering in the region driving into the city of Kusumu before heading home to the States.

JAYNE SAMUELS, IREPORTER: We could see smoke in the background and see fires. There were people in the roads and they told us that the city was, quote, "on fire" and that we would not be able to continue to drive into the city.

NGUYEN: Opposition supporters claimed the vote was rigged and stormed streets across the country to show their frustration. In Nairobi, iReporter Duncan Wasuwa (ph) captured these images of people running for safety. CNN correspondent and Kenya native Zain Verjee became part of the story when paramilitaries hit her with a tear gas canister.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They hit my back. Hit my back.

It was a scary and difficult moment in an area that was one of the most familiar that I have been with. Throughout my life in Kenya.

NGUYEN: In the end, a political deal. Both sides would share violence but the violence leaving scars on a country that was considered an example of stability in Africa.


NGUYEN (on camera): Russia tried to make a statement to western nations in 2008. Don't underestimate us.

HOLMES: The Russia Army invaded the former Soviet nation of Georgia in late summer and iReporters were there filming the Russian troops and showing us the Georgian response.


HOLMES (voice-over): August in Tblisi, Georgia. iReporters captured the Georgian president and citizens singing the national anthem.

As Russian tanks steam rolled through their country.

GEORGE TOPOURIA, IREPORTER: It must confess that I never expected that I would be afraid of Russian tanks rolling my city.

HOLMES: Georgia's military was overwhelmed by the lightning fast Russian force. But citizens in the capital made a stand, rallying and telling Russia to go home and pleading for the West to pay attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we tell to you, if you want to know something about freedom, come to Georgia.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To see the tenacity of its people, their love for their country and to see an entire society rally together in the face of impossible odds really was an honor to witness. HOLMES: iReporters showcased the Georgian side and but some shared pro-Russian stances, blaming Georgia for provoking the war by attacking South Ossetia. All this as displaced citizens made their way to refugee camps. iReporters moved enough to share their stories.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN IREPORT CORRESPONDENT: I'm joined now by George Kvizhinadze. He is a photographer living in Tblisi who submitted these images of a refugee camp there. He joins me right now live from his home. George, tell me now how life has changed for you just in the past 10 to 11 days.

GEORGE KVIZHINADZE, IREPORTER: Hello, everyone. I mean, life has changed like from day to night. I can stay in the office and not to do anything with what's happening. And what I could do I found in myself. I can take pictures and show what's happening here to the world. And iReport Web site gave me this opportunity.

HOLMES: Nearly two weeks after Russian troops entered Georgian territory the big retreat into South Ossetia, the conflict is over and the deep impression lives on, though, through the eyes of iReporters.

The worried expression of a child. Hands clasped against oppression. The waving flag a symbol of a nation's pride, a people living history.


HOLMES (on camera): In Mumbai and Kenya and Georgia, we saw violence and we saw aggression. But n some parts of the world, we saw sheer tragedy.

NGUYEN: Our iReporters were in China, Myanmar and Haiti this year, witnesses to the devastating impact of Mother Nature's fury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crazy. We just had an earthquake and the whole bridge is moving.

NGUYEN: That's University of Nebraska student Kent Campbell (ph) reacting to May's 7.9 magnitude earthquake in China. But this wasn't a run-of-the-mill earthquake. When the ground shopped shaking, more than 80,000 people had been killed.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All I remember is we kept going and driving neighborhood after neighborhood, city after city and just seeing devastation and just continuing to think how much worse can it get?

NGUYEN: Ben Geisler sent nearly 60 pictures to He talked with iReport correspondent Errol Barnett.

BEN GEISLER, IREPORTER: When I first saw my photographs, I didn't really understand how powerful they were until I saw them with a frame around them. They didn't scare them until I saw live breaking news from CNN around them and I kind of realized what it was that I saw.

NGUYEN: What he and other iReporters saw, massive destruction. Horrific injuries. Thousands homeless and thousands more sleeping in tents, afraid to go inside.

An entirely different disaster shook the folks in Myanmar, Cyclone Nargis. iReporters found people desperate for food and shelter after the storm ripped through the country.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the relief centers in Boglay. If you can call it a relief center.

NGUYEN: CNN's Dan Rivers visited one of the worst hit areas.

RIVERS: We're went down to the river and they were literally picking up bodies and throwing them into the river. In a sort of -- It looked as if they were trying to clean the place up. Just the callous way they were throwing bodies with stones attached to them to weight down the bodies. It looked like - into the river -- it was fairly horrific and something I will never forget.

NGUYEN (on camera): The only way to get down there ...

(voice-over): I went to Myanmar two months after the cyclone sneaking into the Irrawady Delta at night because the government didn't want us there. We found villages with little to no aid and families straining to recover.

(on camera): This is what the Myanmar government doesn't want to you see. Bodies still rotting along the delta some two months after the cyclone hit. And you can still smell the stench of death.

(voice-over): Three months later on the other side of the world, four massive storms hit Haiti one after another after another. More than 800 people dead. Survivors struggling with floods and fighting for food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The damage is very severe. The water in places was over 10 feet. There is no fresh water there. There is no food there. The people have come to the streets and there is literally thousands of people walking the streets.

NGUYEN: Three countries, three natural disasters. Three tragedies captured forever by iReporters.


NGUYEN (on camera): All right. So for many of you, you get on a train at the end of your work day and commute home.

HOLMES: However for some 200 California commuters in mid-September, the normal trek home turned into tragedy.


HOLMES: September 12th, 2008. Metro Train 111 pulls out of Los Angeles Union Station and shortly after, the train is on a set of shared tracks when the unthinkable happens. And for the 225 people on board, a routine commute turns into tragedy on the tracks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just collided with something. I don't know what. We have a lot of -- Several people who are injured and bleeding.

COOPER: It's the kind of story you always dread covering because you know it's going to be a horrific scene.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN RORESPONDENT: This was in the heart of rush hour. We are talking about a full train and hundreds of people affected. Just the early images of this that were horrible. Seeing from the air, people out and looking for help and all the emergency crews coming towards the train. And we immediately got on the road and got out there.

HOLMES: As did iReporter Matt Hartman who was one of the first to arrive on the scene.

COOPER: We also received a number of iReports from I believe what we were about to show you from Matt Hartman. These were taken just moments after the train crash.

MATT HARTMAN, IREPORTER: Once we got closer, you could see blood, you could see people, you could sheets over the bodies. It was shocking at first, but the second I put my camera up to my eyes, started shooting, a lot of that went away because i was busy trying to capture the moment.

HOLMES: Metrolink Train 111 had collided with a freight train.

HARTMAN: You could see where they hit, but not where they were positioned. It was such a -- there was metal going every which way and things were on top of other things and it looked like a massive pile of molten metal with people coming out of it.

You had helicopters over here and your triage over here with bloodied victims and you have lines and lines of firefighters and policemen and first responders helping. Then you see this mountain of color and sound and smells and just chaos. And it was just so weird to see how these people could operate calmly and yet save all these people.

Just that first look at everything going on in front of you. It didn't look real. It was so surreal.

ROWLANDS: We could see everything from our vantage point but we were sort of up above and that's where the people down below like the iReporters, specifically, I think it was Matt, the images that you see there are so dramatic because he was right down in the middle of it.

HARTMAN: I went back the next day to look at the memorials for these people that the local neighborhoods had left. And it's heartbreaking. It was really heartbreaking. It's something I will never forget.


HOLMES (on camera): In the September accident, authorities say the Metrolink train failed to heed a warning light and crashed head on into the freight train. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board say just before the crash the engineer of the Metrolink 111 was sending and receiving text messages on his cell phone. He was among the 25 people who died that day.

NGUYEN: The Olympic experience. Why going for the gold in Beijing made for dramatic iReports.


HOLMES: What does it mean to be black in America today? CNN dedicated four hours of television to that one question and iReporters sent in countless answers and reaction.


TRAVERS JOHNSON, IREPORTER (voice-over): So many times many people see one version of what it means to be young and black in America. So my goal was to just showcase the diversity and just to try to answer that question and what I found was the answer is different depending on who you ask. And there is just a wide array of answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is excellent to be young and black in America, mostly because there is so much potential.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In "Black in America" we tried to show the range. Some African Americans are impoverished. That's a fact. Some African Americans are wildly, successfully ensconced in the middle class. That's a fact. Some are upper class. That's a fact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not everyone was raised on hip hop, not everyone is from the hood and not everyone knows about the ghetto. It's good to show that part, but it's good to show that not all African Americans are from one general area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be black in America means I have to be more aggressive and be smarter than the next man and have my information down and correct, to be proud to be black in America. That's what being black means.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting because I think there is a frustration and part of the problem is that so few media stories are done on African Americans that when one story is done, everybody feels like that's a definitive story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's time for us as a country to unite and time to stop talking about black America and white America and become an America, a country where people support one another and help one another.

O'BRIEN: Whether people loved parts of the documentary or hated parts of the documentary or were angry at the issues raised or were thrilled about other things raised. Let's talk about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to thank CNN for being a vehicle to encourage long overdue dialogue that is occurring in beauty shops, barber shops, corporate offices and classrooms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You discussed percentages of black fathers being out of the home, but generalized statistics cannot and does not educate the listener to those real life situations that actually perpetuate those statistics in which you are reporting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we have reached an important point in our understanding about race in America. From health disparities to educational differences to relationship challenges, we got insights tonight that we have not seen ever reported in the way they reported tonight at CNN.


NGUYEN (on camera): OK. So whether it was a basketball, track and field or swimming, all eyes were on Beijing this summer. While many of us watch from our televisions at home and being in the middle of the Olympic experience was a whole different story.


NGUYEN (voice-over): One world, one dream. The official slogan of the 2008 Olympics. For a few weeks in August, the world came together and our iReporters were there to capture it all.

FRANCES CHEN, IREPORTER: People were making friends with other people around the world and it didn't matter if you spoke their language or not.

NGUYEN: But the Beijing Games didn't come without controversy. As the Olympic torch made its sometimes troubled way across the globe, our iReporters caught it all including the protests in Seoul. And San Francisco.

And even as the Games got underway, so did a potentially dangerous game for one reporter. Take a listen to ITN reporter John Gray is being arrested by Chinese authorities while legally covering a pro- Tibetan rally.

JOHN GRAY, ITN CORRESPONDENT: These people are arrested me. I have been arrested by the Chinese police for just trying to cover the protests here.

NGUYEN: But all controversy aside, if there is one name or one person that defined these Olympics, it would be none other than Michael Phelps.

Phelps, just an amazing incredibly story. He won his 8th gold medal of the Beijing Olympics this weekend, shattering all the records.

The greatest Olympian of all time. IReporters got their chance to ask Phelps his thoughts or even some advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Phelps, how do I improve my dolphin kick and can you help me get better at swimming and my flip turns?

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: Trying to improve things every single day. The small things because they make a difference.

LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael Phelps and what he did was something you will be talking about 50 years from now. Our grandkids will be talking about this guy Michael Phelps and what he did in Beijing.


HOLMES (on camera): And no doubt he did something special.

Well, we've gone through a lot so far on this iReport special, but hey we are not done just yet.

NGUYEN: Oh, no. You are never going to guess what some iReporters found washed ashore right after Hurricane Ike.


NGUYEN: This year not only marked the launch of but also our first ever iReport film festival highlighted by the presidential election.

HOLMES: Yes and of course we got hundreds of entries all uploaded and there were two winners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not following nobody's footsteps. I'm my own boss. Have always been my own boss.

HOLMES: For his winning submissions, iReporter Mike Dennis documented his 90-year-old grandmother casting her ballot in the Pennsylvania primary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the first time we come this close to voting for a black man. Never had it come this close.

I'm going to vote,that's all.

MIKE DENNIS, IREPORTER: She said he's bright and believe he's smart. Cut to an intelligent comment made by Mr. Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT ELECT: What is lacking right now is not good ideas. The problem we have is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die.

DENNIS: And it kind of reinforces her point and clarifies at the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like the guy. He can really go somewhere.

HOLMES: And in Electoral College, so to speak, iReporters Franco Carpoloti (ph) and Zack Harit (ph) pondered the question of what would happen if Barack Obama and John McCain were college roommates?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm John, all my friends call me Maverick, though. You must be Barack.

HOLMES: Their comedic production won them the comedic film festival's viewer's choice awards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The more we knew about the candidate, the better we can make the film and the funnier we can make the inside jokes. So that's how that came about.

HOLMES: They pick up health care forms at the main office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is health care free?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't think so?


HOLMES: They sit down to a game of cards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want to play?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's play war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to play war. I hate war. Are there any other alternatives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I mean, the cards are on the table and it's way too late to bring them back now. So let's just play.

HOLMES: They also drive home the America votes 2008 buzzword.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the living room?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I love change.


NGUYEN: iReport was originally designed to allow all citizen journalists to contribute to breaking news coverage.

HOLMES (on camera): But as the iReport phenomenon grew, the types of stories submitted broadened out from breaking news and shared a slice of the real American life.


HENRY HANKS, ASSOCIATE PRODUCER, IREPORTS: One of the more interesting iReports we got was in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in Fort Morgan, Alabama. Two iReporters both sent multiple photos of what appeared to be a civil war ship that washed up. It is still sort of a mystery where this came from. But the iReport community jumped in and just was fascinated by the story.

TYSON WHEATLEY, PRODUCER, IREPORT: One of the funnest assignments we did was created office cubicles.

We invited our readers to show us and take us into their work space and found some really sort of creative ways that people are decorating. This actually ended up being one of the most popular topics we had all year.

LILA KING, SENIOR PRODUCER, IREPORT: One night in early December, there was a really dramatic event in the night sky. Venus and Jupiter were just about to cross paths and they were really close to the moon and we saw these photos coming to and they bubbled up to the top of the page because people were clicking on them and giving them high ratings. And because of that it became a phenomenon on


NGUYEN: It's amazing to think we were all tens of thousands of miles apart from one another but looking up and seeing the same thing.

HOLMES: Of course that's the beauty of it. Betty, the beauty of iReports through an online community we can bring one picture, one video, one moment in time to millions of viewers around the world through the networks of CNN. I'm T.J. Holmes.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen.

Thanks so much for joining us.


O'BRIEN: My name is Soledad O'Brien.


COOPER: iReport for CNN.





COOPER: I report for CNN.