Sunday, January 18, 2009

Is Twitter the New Eyewitness News?

There's a lot of chatter about twitter and friendfeed as the real-time web. Recent events seem to bear that out.

Grown Up Digital » Eyewitness news? Turn to Twitter

A US Airways jet makes a crash landing on the Hudson River and who had the story first?  CNN?  Neither. First on the scene with a picture of survivors standing on the wings was Twitter user Janis Krums. Twitter bio: ‘Entrepereneur (sic), Former Athlete, Always working on the Next Big Thing: Currently- Nutrition for Elite Athletes.’

Krums posted his iPhone photo to Twitpic with the caption that ‘There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.’

Ian Lamont, Managing Editor of The Industry Standard, tracked how quickly the story had been covered by regular news outlets.
    Less than two hours ago, A US Airways jet made a water landing on New York’s Hudson River, shortly after departing from La Guardia Airport. I found out about it via a Wall Street Journal e-mail alert that was sent out at 3:52 in the afternoon, about 25 minutes after it happened, and immediately checked my regular breaking news sources. Nothing on Google News. had a brief story that repeated the details of the WSJ alert, and a grainy screen capture from a local television news report, showing a partially submerged plane surrounded by boats. I followed the link through to the ABC affiliate but there was no live video or even an older video report.

    But this is where it gets interesting.

    My colleague in San Francisco IMed me a Flickr link. It was a mirror of a picture … that had been posted to Twitter by someone on a passing ferry, and it told a story than the professional news organizations had thus far missed:

    People had survived the crash. Scores were standing on the wing, or exiting one of the front doors into a gray rubber life raft, or the inflatable escape slide. I counted 34 on the wing, and 11 on the boat/slide. At least three of them were wearing what appeared to be the yellow life jackets stowed under the seats — the ones in the safety demonstrations that require passengers to connect straps and pull down a red tab or blow into a tube to inflate…

    There was more Twitter information, too. Plane-related tweets accounted for eight of the ten top ‘trending topics’ (Hudson River, MSNBC, US Airways, LaGuardia, etc.) Clicking through to them led to reaction of thousands of concerned people, and brief updates from some of them about what had happened, including references to reports that everyone had survived, and officials believed a flock of birds had been sucked into and disabled two of the plane’s engines during takeoff.
Of course, the New York Times followed in a few hours with different angles to the story, such as the credentials of the pilot who made the extraordinary landing and the mechanical history of the aircraft in question. The Times added essential context and background that we expect from good news organizations.

But increasingly the general public, and youth in particular, will turn to services such as Twitter for immediate first-hand accounts of incidents involving or being witnessed by many people.

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