Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake news traveled virally

So, we had an earthquake today. I didn't feel it. I think I was out driving around; it happened at 1:51 p.m. EDT and I was driving home around then. I'm assuming with the mildness of the quake's impact in Upstate New York, being in a moving car would obliterate any chance of feeling it.

My first inkling that an earthquake had occurred was when my wife said something about a friend texting her (and a bunch of other people in a texting group) asking whether any of them had felt it happen. That was about an hour after the quake hit.

My next instinct was not to turn on the TV, as I might have in the past, but to jump on the computer to see what people were saying about it on Facebook and Twitter. The first such entry I saw was from a former student who works in Washington, DC -- not far from the epicenter -- who had FB and Twitter entries with references to the HuffPo website's coverage of the event (which he didn't much like). Another friend who lives in eastern Pennsylvania, still relatively close to the quake's location, had a Facebook post about it. Several Rochester area friends mentioned feeling things shake as well.

Another friend from eastern Pennsylvania, who now teaches at a college there but is originally from California, had at least a couple of dozen Twitter observations about the differences between West Coast quakes he had experienced and this one. He also provided my absolute favorite social media news tidbit with the observation "I was able to pinpoint the epicenter pretty quickly based on descriptions and known locations of tweeters. Took me about a minute."

Now, that's some social media based reporting.

It wasn't until about 4 hours later that I turned to legacy media for news about the quake, and even then I didn't turn on the TV or navigate to a news website. Rather, I looked at the AP news app on my iPad, which had a nice summary story as typical of a wire service. I looked at USA Today's coverage through its iPad news app also. Thus I augmented the first-person reports I had read with the professional coverage that had the "official word" on magnitude of the quake, along with details from a wide range of areas affected by it (from South Carolina to New England to Ohio).

I suppose I'll read about it in tomorrow's print edition of the local paper, too, but that will most likely be a version of the AP story I already have read, augmented by comments from local people whom I don't know. Hearing from people whom I do know is more worthwhile to me, and social media have allowed me to do that already.

Put another way, Twitter and Facebook told me most of what I needed to know, from trusted sources who experienced the event. (To paraphrase Jay Rosen's framing of journalistic authority: they were there, I wasn't, I let them tell me about it.) The AP story was a nice follow-up and I appreciated having the immediate access to it that the mobile app gave me.

Most significantly, both the viral distribution of individual experiences and the professional summary have a role to play in coverage of events such as this. Today's experience was a nice microcosm of that.


Jack / Johnna said...

Hello: My name is also Jack Rosenberry. We have a son, 35, who is also Jack Rosenberry.
Small world. Must be related. I have a "red book" which traces the family from 1697 on... interesting stuff.
Do you know.. is there ever a Rosenberry family reunion? I'd be interested.

Sarah Campagna said...

You are so right! I knew within two minutes that it had been in D.C. because my colleague's husband sent her a text to tell her that the guy he had been on a conference call had felt it at the same time. We were all on FB sharing what friends in other cities were posting. Chanel 10 was recording 'earthquake experience interviews' outside of Tom Wahl's in the Basin tonight but to me it seemed like old news.