I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Social media, citizen journalism trumps traditional media—on the plane crashes beat
You may have heard about a plane crashing into the Hudson River in New York City yesterday. Shortly after takeoff, an airplane from LaGuardia Airport hit a flock of birds (geese, not seagulls). The engines went out; the plane couldn’t make it to an airport, so the pilot instead touched down (not crashed) into the Hudson River.
Because of the heroics of the pilot, the first officer and the rest of the crew, no one died. No one (that I know of) was seriously injured; within minutes they were all off the plane.
The most enduring image of the crash came from Janis Krums, a user of Twitpics, who snapped this photo. No Associated Press photographer was around to take a picture; but this picture, taken from a ferry that helped rescue those on the slowly sinking plane, is the defining image for the Hudson River plane crash.
The picture was so widely viewed that it took down Twitpic for a short while. As of now, more than 222,000 people have seen the picture.
The Detroit Free Press noted that Twitter “scooped” the traditional media. While trad-media types were still trying to get to the scene, pictures were being sent through Twitter; people told their Facebook friends what they saw, etc., etc.
In fact, The New York Times took a look at how the citizen-media types drove the story. After finding scant details on CNN.com, Google News and just a brief, sketchy alert on the Wall Street Journal, Ian Lamont got a link to the now-famous picture by Krums.
The picture showed something that no one else was reporting yet:
People had survived the crash. Passengers 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.
Even over at the Albuquerque Journal, Facebook played a role in finding a photo to use. Executive editor Kent Walz found a picture by Julie Pukelis on CNN’s iReport.
Matt Bernhardt, the assistant photo editor and assignment editor for the Journal, explained how he got in contact with Pukelis:
After a futile search of the wire services and an attempt to find Pukelis phone number, I turned to Google. The search brought me back to CNN’s iReport and a Facebook page for a Julie Pukelis of New York, NY.
With deadlines approaching, I could only hope she was still logged onto Facebook. Despite a little friendly ribbing from coworkers and doubts of my own, I sent a message to Pukelis asking her to contact me and allow the Albuquerque Journal to use her photo. Within a couple of minutes the phone rang. I had guessed correctly. Pukelis quickly offered to e-mail the photo on the condition that we send her a few papers if it runs.
The photo ultimately did not run in the print version, but did on the web.
In some cases (not all) such crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism clearly has an advantage over the traditional media. While an AP or Reuters photographer will probably not be around the site of such an incident, there are always people around. And everyone has cell phones with increasingly clear cameras attached (obviously more clear than the camera phone from Flight of the Conchords).
We know by now, of course, that everyone survived. We now know that Captain Chelsea B. Sullenberger III walked the plane twice after the emergency landing to see if anyone was left behind.
But for minutes after the crash, all we had to go by was a picture on TwitPic, a few thousand observers in New York City and some citizen-driven journalism.
This is different from how people videotaped the 9/11 crashes, which was graphically illustrated by the great (if uncomfortable) History Channel show 102 Minutes That Changed America. This was instantaneous.
Now, obviously, there will always be a need for the traditional media. I would not work for a service which does actual reporting, the New Mexico Independent, if I did not thing this was true. But, in some cases, traditional media will never beat out the masses.