Dramatic scenes from Thursday's emergency landing of a US Airways flight into the Hudson River were first seen on social networking site Twitter. User Janis Krums was aboard a ferry used to rescue stranded passengers, and uploaded the news-breaking photo to TwitPic from his iPhone during the rescue. His caption read 'There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.'
The flight took off from LaGuardia airport at 3.26PM, and was already in trouble less than a minute later. Krums' photo appeared on TwitPic just 10 minutes after take off, at 3.36PM. Traditional media outlet the New York Times was 'a bit slow to get news' of the incident onto its web site, running it as a breaking news item at 3.48PM but not covering it as a front page story until 4.00PM. Krums himself was interviewed by MSBNC 30 minutes after posting the image, but it was definitely Twitter that broke the story first.
Social media is an increasingly accepted method of communication, but equally important is its growing role in breaking stories such as the Hudson crash, and its use by world figures to get their message across. Barack Obama will become the first President elect with his own Facebook, mySpace and Twitter pages, nicely complemented by his personal youTube channel. CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider believes "Obama has invented an alternative media model". Even the Vatican is on board, with plans to launch their own youTube channel too.
These traditional institutions breaking away from more conventional means, and embracing the social media revolution shows a resignation, willing or otherwise, to the fact that sites such as Twitter and Facebook are an integral part of the modern world. Newspapers and news sites are constantly trying to use the sites popularity to their own benefit, with direct links and Facebook-ing journalists - but with the head start that Twitter had over the New York Times last Thursday, its seems they may have to try a little harder.
That said, there are of course still faults. Neil Budde, founding editor and publisher of the Wall Street Journal and president of DailyMe.com said of Twitter's Hudson crash coverage that he 'found little info there while TV was loaded'. There is also a continuing objectivity issue with online blog-style sites, and their potential for 'erroneous reporting and misuse' in contrast to highly edited articles published in newspapers.
With Twitter so quick off the mark with breaking news, and more traditional institutions such as TV and newspapers so adept at providing in-depth and unbiased coverage, it would seem a basis for an ideal partnership. Even if the right balance between the two hasn't yet been found, with a Pope and a President on board, the future for social networking looks bright.