On, July 22nd a strong summer storm dropped over 7 1/2 inches of rain on parts of Southeastern Wisconsin in a two hour period. The coverage of the effects of that storm went wall-to-wall all night with live on-scene reports of flooded basements, cars being carried away by water on roads that had become rivers, sinkholes eating SUVs, the airport closing, and a local burger joint being spared flood damage by a well-installed door that kept 3 feet of water from pouring into their establishment.
Oh yeah, and local TV covered it too.
The coverage I’m talking about was Twitter, as the community that provides the content for that Social Media outlet shifted into high gear. In so doing, it inadvertently became a competitor..and facilitator…of one local TV station’s position as “Breaking News Leader.”
One of the big stories of the night was that of a huge sinkhole on Milwaukee’s East Side that swallowed a Cadillac Escalade. The local news carried the story, but the first media report didn’t come from a TV news crew. It came from a “reporter” named “@matt_is_a_nerd” who scooped all the other media outlets at 7:08 with his Tweet:
Before the local news was able to scramble their trucks to go set up a live shot, Twitterer “@theGlenn” published the first photo:
Minutes later, @Mike_Thiel twitpic’ed the photo of the actual SUV in the hole that has since gone viral:
That photo ended up on all the local TV stations and by the next morning, even NBC’s Today Show was showing it. Other photos, including the now famous back door shot at AJ Bombers with three feet of water visible through the glass showed up on TV. But unlike broadcast TV and its “push to the masses” model, the viral buzz on Twitter gave people the opportunity to participate in the stories…sharing the stories with their own “take” attached, and in the case of the AJ Bombers photos creating a meme where people were encouraged to use their Photoshop skills to modify the photo to include various objects in the water behind the door. Entries included mermaids, turtles, oil leaks and other aquatic creatures.
As they always do, the local TV stations did an awesome job covering the news and human interest stories. Weathermen with the cool graphics, remote crews, cameras mounted on their towers and the access the media has to officials available for phone interviews gave them the edge that even Social Media couldn’t provide. But with a base of tens of thousands of “citizen reporters,” this storm demonstrated the new paradigm of Social Media as a bona fide news source, almost like the old teletype news wires that printed out stories from organizations like Associate Press and United Press International for anchors and reporters to “rip and read” on air.
Twitter, however, did more than just act as a news feed to TV stations. It also provided an amazing service to its members by being a news feed and information source to its own community. News of flooded basements spread and was responded to by people with generators and pumps, willing to brave the elements and come out and help.
A viral concern over the safety of local Twitter favorite @bootyp almost developed into a search party after these two Tweets:
And just as Social Media provided the Local TV stations with content for their broadcast, a case of reciprocation also emerged as a local TV news anchor actually became an impromptu Twitter Anchor. @SusanKim4 provided her own news blurbs, infobits, and interacted with the community via Twitter throughout the night just like she does every morning on the Wake-up News show on the local NBC affiliate.
In between on-air interviews with the local Media, the staff at Milwaukee Mitchell Airport was busy as people used Twitter not only to monitor conditions as the airport closed, reopened and closed again, but also assumed that they were there to answer individual questions:
@MitchellAirport is there a bus from Chicago midway to Mitchell airport. My @southwestair fly stranded here
@MitchellAirport is it possible to drive to the airport at this time…and is the airport closed to access from departing passengers?
@MitchellAirport what is the airport doing to get the water off the runway?
Dear @MitchellAirport Please open long enough for my husband to come in from Canada. We miss him. Sincerely, samdham.
Mitchell Airport actually became a trending topic on Twitter as even the local news media began to rely on their Twitter posts as their “official” statements with queries like this:
@MitchellAirport How are the ground (supersaver) lots looking? What will travelers return to? @wisn12news
Eventually the waters subsided, but coverage still dominated and cross-pollinated both spheres the next day, further blurring the lines that separate traditional Electronic Media and Social Media. Life returned to normal. But will the relationship between New Media and Old Media ever go back to the way it was before?
As mobile devices become more powerful, and Social Media becomes more ubiquitous, one wonders where the trajectory will lead. Will it be further convergence and greater synergy, or will Social Media eventually overtake Traditional Media as the source of information for our society? What are your thoughts?