Entries from November 2008 ↓

Twitter community grows through Mumbai

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Twitter lately… Heck, a lot of my posts have been about Twitter since I started this nerd blog. But I have to say, Twitter came into its own this week due to the tragedy in Mumbai. It’s been a major focus since the attacks started Wednesday and many media outlets have noticed.

CNN: “Tweeting the terror: How social media reacted to Mumbai”
Forbes: “Mumbai: Twitter’s Moment”
Reuters: “Blogs feed information frenzy on Mumbai attacks”
ABC News: “Social Media a Lifeline, Also a Threat?”
CBS News: “Web a Reliable Resource in Mumbai Madness”
France 24: “Citizen journalism offers intimate view of Mumbai attacks”
The Guardian: “Twitter comes of age with fast reports from the ground in Mumbai”
The Times of India: “Twittering & blogging about terror”
New York Times: “Citizen Journalists Provided Glimpses of Mumbai Attacks”

@tweetip followed the first tweets on the Mumbai attacks

(@tweetip followed the first tweets on the Mumbai attacks)

It’s fascinating to see how people flocked to share information onto Twitter and then watch how some of the more mainstream media tried to explain it. Amy Gahran (who is a consultant and works at Poynter) was kind to speak to a number of these media outlets to explain how information needs to be filtered. She tried to explain how social media is a news source and not an evil threat. Unfortunately, some outlets hear that call, others continue to play to the culture of fear. (Note the title of the ABC news article) She wrote a great piece for Poynter on how to be a responsible tweeter.

In reading the many articles online and watching the conversations on Twitter, I’ve come to a couple conclusions on why Twitter can be a wonderful news source for all of us to use during developing news. First, you can’t understand or rely on information from Twitter without becoming a part of the Twitter community. It’s very hard to trust or understand the information found on there unless you’ve been there long enough to build a community and a reliable chunk of people you follow. I knew about Sarah Palin’s nomination hours before it went puplic. My husband thought I was crazy to bring it up. I knew about the earthquake in China and the kind of damage it was causing before there were full accounts on the international media outlets. I knew about developments of smaller stories across the country because I follow people I trust and I’ve spent enough time following them that I knew what they are experts in. If a mom blogger suddenly started tweeting with financial tips, I would question that information unless she happens to be a day trader and a mom blogger (it can happen).

Second, I consider Twitter like how I work with scanners in a newsroom. When there is scanner squawk during breaking news (such as the #Mumbai hashtag) often it’s correct information… but you have to consider the source and confirm it. Twitter can be more reliable considering if you’ve been there a while you already know your sources, background and reliability. When there’s breaking news, you can follow it through a hashtag but confirm and do follow up with the people you follow.

Watching breaking news through social media

A group of Flickr pictures from Mumbai

A group of Flickr pictures from Mumbai

I am visiting my in-laws for the holidays when I happened to hop onto Twitter this afternoon. That’s when I discovered the horrible news about an attack at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India. But as I continued to watch the chatter on Twitter, the situation got worse. More attacks at the Taj Hotel and word attackers were taking people with passports from the US and the UK. Talk of grenade attacks and suddenly a list of people who were in Mumbai emerged. It was amazing to suddenly find people who were in the city give their perspective. I was almost immediately hooked to the Twitter search page where people were using the #mumbai tag with updates on the situation. At some points thousands of new posts would appear in a matter of seconds.

The most fascinating information emerging came from a Twitter user named Vinu. CNN reports his full name is Vinukumar Ranganathan. He had seen the damage first-hand. Many of the explosions happened a couple of blocks from his home. Along with his tweets, he started to upload dozens of photos he took while he was outside. While I read his writing and looked at his pictures, I noticed him comment that CNN had seen his tweets and wanted to talk to him on the air. His phone interview and his photos emerged on that network. His photos can be found online interspersed with AP and Getty Images on CNN.com. CNN started actively recruiting first-hand information through social networks and I suddenly realized the social network of news is going mainstream. It’s fascinating.

While I was having this awesome social media moment, a family member talked to me skeptically about how it was possible I could know so much about what was happening without following a “real” news source. I feel I was getting better and more accurate information following Twitter than anywhere else. Many of the facts I learned emerged 10 minutes, even an hour later through CNN or other outlets. Along with the Twitter feed, a help blog emerged and a wiki that was keeping up with the developments very closely. You can even follow Twitter real-time and within a 15 mile radius of Mumbai. It’s incredible how the world can combine to deliver awesome information.

UPDATE: A nice list of social networks used during this developing story can be found on Poynter’s website and here.

Did you miss the webcast?

My friend and member of the Reynolds Journalism Institute futures lab staff and newscast director extraordinaire Travis McMillen created this quick look at what you may have missed if you weren’t watching the Smart Decision ’08 webcast.

Four hours. Four newsrooms.

The end of the 2008 election season wrapped up a piece of my online obsession – SmartDecision08.com. Along with helping keep that site running with content from KOMU.com, KBIA.org and the ColumbiaMissourian.com I also decided to turn the partnership up a notch and produce a multi-newsroom webcast. We ended up also including a new internationally-focused newsroom called Newsy.com into the webcast as well. So for four hours we worked with content from four newsrooms and conducted interviews with participants in a big non-partisan watch party we created to coincide with the webcast. It was pretty fantastic to be able to combine multiple newsrooms AND the community all into one event. I’m proud of the dozens and dozens of people who helped make the event happen. I’m exhausted from it all still.

I actually had to run out of town the very next day for family reasons so I haven’t been able to truly digest the many things we were able to do since SmartDecision08.com launched a year ago. I don’t want to see the site die – so I have to come up with ways to let it continue to grow even without any funding. The great thing about RSS feeds is the content continues to flow, so I’m trying to conceptualize a way to help the website follow political news and issues even if I’m not overseeing it often.

In the meantime I’m about to go halfway around the world to train some journalists in China. I’ve never had this kind of opportunity before and I am excited and nervous to go. I’m planning to spend some quite, focused time preparing for the trip. When I get back, I hope to spend more time digesting and sharing the lessons learned from the SmartDecision08.com project.