Tiwtter, Denver plane crash, citizen journalists

Passenger Uses Twitter to Document Denver Plane Crash

December 23, 2008 10:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
One Twitter user broadcast news of the weekend plane crash in Denver as it was happening—another first for the Web site and another step forward for citizen journalism.

Tweet Journalism

Twitter was used in another recent major event this year, the crash of a Continental jet Saturday night in Denver. In a series of about 20 entries, Continental passenger and Twitter user Mike Wilson described his ordeal.

Wilson said the plane was “in the middle of a normal takeoff when we suddenly veered off.” In a later post he added, “[I] think we might have gone into a ravine and dropped some distance as there was a sudden bottom-dropped-out feeling and then a jolt.”

The fire started around the time they hit the ravine, he said, and he thought he could feel the heat from one of the engines near his row.

“Whoever was on the left side exit row, god bless him, was johnny on the spot and instantly had the door open—people crowded out in a mass.”

He described being put in the airline’s president’s club with the other passengers “until they can sort everything out,” and he complained that drinks weren’t being served.

“You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can’t even get a vodka-tonic. Boo.”

Dozens of people were injured in the crash, a few seriously. No fatalities were reported.

Twitter was also used during one of the biggest events in 2008, the November terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Citizen journalists also used sites like CNN’s iReport and Ground Report to spread news of what was going on around them. 

Though questions still remain about who committed the attacks, whether any attackers are still alive and how the Indian government handled the situation, there is no question that the coverage of the events was bolstered considerably by citizen journalists.

Twitter is a micro-blogging site that permits 140-character-at-a-time statements called tweets. It gained momentum during the U.S. election season and was used in a similar manner during the Mumbai attacks. According to the Times of London, “hundreds of people using the site to update others with first-hand accounts of the carnage.” (Browse the search results for the keyword “Mumbai” on Twitter’s site to see all relevant tweets in chronological order.) 

But as of Nov. 27, Indian authorities asked people to stop updating on Twitter for security reasons, the Times adds; names of suspected terrorists had been leaked to the site, but the information could not be verified. This problem alluded to the credibility issue that an explosion of user-generated news services has brought to the fore. 

But Twitter was also being used as a means “to post contact details of relevant emergency services for those caught up in the attack,” the Times wrote, and for those in the midst of the violence to alert others they were safe.

Along with cell phone pictures, video snapshots and blog entries, Twitter clued-in those following the events to the “what” of the Mumbai attacks, even if it left out traditional journalism’s crucial “who” and “why,” notes Alexander Wolfe of Information Week.
The New York Times blog The Lede, which “follows the day’s news stories as they spiral off into unexpected directions,” supplemented the paper’s regular news articles with link-filled updates on the Mumbai attacks, including links to Twitter users covering the events from the ground. The Lede’s approach followed the format of another Times blog, The Caucus, which covered the 2008 presidential election in a similar manner, often breaking headlines before the actual paper did. On its homepage last week, the Times also made a call for reports from those in Mumbai.

Opinion & Analysis: Pro vs. amateur journalists, a healthy divide?

Information Week’s Wolfe believes that the coverage of the Mumbai attacks was a watershed moment for journalism: “[J]ournalists will henceforth no longer be the first to bring us information. Rather, they will be a conduit for the stream of images and video shot by a mix of amateurs and professionals on scene.”

Jay Rosen of NYU’s School of Journalism and the blog PressThink suggested in 2006 that the divide between pro and amateur journalists was nothing to be concerned about. Dubbing citizen journalists “the people formerly known as the audience,” Rosen argues that this group simply isn’t “on the clock” of the mainstream media anymore. “We graduate from wanting media when we want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.” He adds that citizen journalism is something that MSM executives, including News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, Reuters’ Tom Glocer and the BBC’s Mark Thompson, are embracing, and are willing to cater to.

Related Topic: When citizen journalism goes wrong

In October, a story on CNN’s user-generated iReport claimed that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a massive heart attack. According to Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb, the story was false, not to mention troubling for CNN and the field of citizen journalism, at least temporarily. “[D]o false reports like this damage CNN’s credibility? The answer is yes, absolutely. This particular report may even lead to an SEC investigation where CNN will be asked to provide an IP address for the user who posted the story.” Perez points out that it takes less than a minute to sign up to iReport and start reporting.

Reference: Citizen journalists: mainstream media’s helpers

IReport is a CNN sister site that is solely user-generated. On it, regular people can create accounts in seconds and start posting articles, blog entries and comments to others’ work. CNN includes some of these reports on its Web site and on television, “vetting” the content it chooses. None of the other content is “edited, fact-checked, or screened” before appearing on the site. In the “About” section of iReport, the mission is described thus: “Lots of people argue about what constitutes news. But, really, it’s just something that happens someplace to someone. Whether that something is newsworthy mostly depends on who it affects—and who’s making the decision.”

Ground Report is a similar project, with more global coverage than iReport. Reporters on the site earn a share of advertising revenue from their articles, and, as on iReport, are encouraged to upload videos and sound files as well as submit written articles. According to the site’s “About Us” section, “We have over 3,000 contributors worldwide who regularly break stories hours, days and weeks before major media outlets.”

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