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Saturday, February 27, 2010

How Twitter Made Me Into A Citizen Journalist

I awoke this morning at 5:50 am because of a nightmare, only to hop online and find out another one had occurred in Chile. An 8.8 magnitude earthquake had struck. Ten minutes later, the first tsunami warning siren sounded.

It was deafening.

I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Hawaii Kai, there was a tsunami warning. In the end the water only raised by a few inches. In the past few months since I'd started my PhD, there have been a couple other tsunami watches, none of which resulted in anything of interest. But there's something about a haunting siren at 6 am that makes you take something seriously, and not wanting to be left in the dark, Barry and I immediately began closely watching the news. At about 6 am I (@NerdyChristie) tweeted my first tweet of the day: "Ah fuck. Serious tsunami warning. Not cool."

Immediately friends and blog followers began pouring in their support and good wishes, and asking for me to "keep them updated." So I did. I started tweeting the interesting anecdotes from the news, retweeting other information posted on the tsunami, and adding in what was going on around me as I headed to get extra water and prepared for the worst.

I'm not really sure what caught everyone's attention, but suddenly, I started getting followers. I started getting A LOT of followers. Within an hour or so, I had another 200 people tuning into my twitter feed, and every minute more followers tuned in.

Somehow, I had crossed a line; I had become a citizen journalist.

Why did so many people find my updates so interesting? I think it was because I cared. I cared about getting it all. I cared about being quick. But more importantly, I cared about being accurate. And apparently, the major news outlets didn't.

It was amazing to me how much the major networks - Fox, CNN, MSNBC - got wrong. Simple things, like locations, were just annoying. But they got large things wrong, too - Fox reported waters receding 15 feet from Waikiki before Hilo had even been hit. None of them seemed to have anyone who actually knew what was going on.

That's not to say that there weren't news programs that had accurate and up to date information: there were. The local news network, KGMB/KHNL and the local papers did a great job. What was most interesting to me, though, was what they had in common - they were all actively incorporating Twitter into their news.

Today really revealed to me how Twitter has revolutionized modern journalism. The Honolulu Advertiser (@honadv), the Star Bulletin (@starbulletin) and the major news network (@hawaiinewsnow) were live tweeting tsunami updates.

These media outlets weren't just putting out updates via twitter - they were taking them in. The Honolulu Advertiser had up a twitstream of the hashtag "#hawaiitsunami" on their homepage. Hawaii News Now constantly provided viewers with updates of different areas sent to them by twitterers, and I learned as much about what was going on watching twitter feeds as I did watching the news.

It was truly incredible was how much information was being gathered by nobodies like me, people just sharing their personal experiences on the web. And in turn, those that looked to twitter and social networking to stay informed got accurate, real-time information, while those who looked to CNN and Fox got much, much less.

Should it be shocking that someone following my feed got more information and better information than someone watching TV? Maybe not. Because of twitter, I was able to synthesize and pass along information from a variety of sources instantly. Instead of being one journalist talking to one person, I was every journalist in Hawaii that was talking to every person. I was every live camera and every online update that was out there. In essence, I had every TV channel, every newspaper, and every person tweeting in Hawaii working for me, gathering information that I then passed along. This kind of journalism has never been possible before, though it's clear why it is perfect for a disaster-type scenario. Journalism has been forever changed by twitter, and I suspect that feeds like mine was today will become more and more popular as sources for accurate, up to date information about breaking news.

In the end, the tsunami definitely came, causing water level fluctuations of up to 10 feet in Hilo. Here on Oahu, the effects were smaller, though we still got to see our share of the water rushing in and out. The ocean will still be acting unpredictably for the next day or two, but, thanks to the on-target predictions by scientists and effective prevention measures by the local officials, the worst has passed and no damage has been reported from anywhere in Hawaii. As for me, I'm off to get some much needed rest after tweeting constantly for seven hours straight.

2 comments:

Ed Yong said...

Christie, your tweets were informative, evocative and a testament to the power of citizen journalism. Thanks for sharing them.

ktraphagen said...

Christie, I was one of those new followers today. I followed a RT from @BoraZ and found your tweets. We lived on Moloka'i for a while (probably through that non-event tsunami you mentioned in your blogpost), so I was very interested in following the details. We had a few other friends we kept in touch with via Twitter, but your tweets were awesome and kept everyone informed with timely, reliable information. Kudos for a job well done!

thx!
@ktraphagen