Twitter, Mumbai, and 10 facts about journalism now

I think everyone knows that what’s happening in Mumbai is on Twitter, being updated live.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch wrote about it on Wednesday, and he has a nice screenshot in the post to show you what it looked like then. Flickr and Wikipedia also provided frequent updates from the ground. Arrington didn’t mention Global Voices, which put together a good package on the attacks based largely on blogs. The Big Picture has the best news photos.

The example of Mumbai reinforces a few things I am always telling journalists about our online future:

  1. Breaking news will be online before it’s on television.
  2. Breaking news — especially disasters and attacks in the middle of a city — will be covered first by non-journalists.
  3. The non-journalists will continue providing new information even after the trained journalists arrive on the scene.
  4. Cell phones will be the primary reporting tool at first, and possibly for hours.
  5. Cell phones that can use a wireless Internet connection in addition to a cellular phone network are a more versatile reporting tool than a phone alone.
  6. Still photos, transmitted by citizens on the ground, will tell more than most videos.
  7. The right video will get so many views, your servers might crash (I’m not aware of this happening with any videos from Mumbai).
  8. Live streaming video becomes a user magnet during a crisis. ( Live: 1.4 million views as of 11:30 a.m. EST today, according to
  9. Your print reporters need to know how to dictate over the phone. If they can get a line to the newsroom, it might be necessary.
  10. Your Web team must be prepared for this kind of crisis reporting.

In addition, we might discuss whether the mainstream media are superfluous in these situations — or can they perform a useful service to the public by sifting and filtering the incoming reports from the center of the events?

48 Comments on “Twitter, Mumbai, and 10 facts about journalism now

  1. The scary thing is that I wrote something very similar back in July when the earthquakes hit the U.S. – we’d already seen the death of Heath Ledger, the UK and Chinese earthquakes and other news either breaking or spreading via Twitter.
    And back in July, to be fair, the LA Times did cover Twitter and embed a Twitter search for the earthquakes.
    Now CNN and the BBC etc are starting to acknowledge it!
    The value is definitely added by filtering, sifting, adding context.

  2. @jayrosen_nyu was on Twitter telling everyone his view of journalism oblivious to the Mumbai tragedy as it was being revealed.

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  4. Your last paragraph could be crucial element #11: The growing need for a ‘news curator’– sifting through the increasing stream of information for quality and authority.

    This has been one of the biggest lessons for, a citizen journalism platform. Initially we were inundated with content from around the world, and added a layer of Wikipedia-style volunteer editors to community. They have been invaluable in setting the tone for GroundReport’s culture and guidelines.

  5. Mindy, your list makes a lot of sense. But I’m curious about your comment about “whether the mainstream media are superfluous in these situations…”

    I was on Twitter the night of the Mumbai attacks. I found a flurry of opinion and news; and a bit of absurdity given the situation (a tweet: “Had coffee with a friend from grade school and bummed around Target. Ahh, the simple things. Now catching up on Mumbai. Just horrible.”)

    Many, if not most, of the posts delivering news were linking to CNN or other “mainstream” media; or reporting what was being reported on TV or news web sites. One tweet crowed “who needs traditional media?” … apparently not aware what most of the Twitter posts were linking to.

    Twitter, it appeared to me, was spreading the news, or connecting people with the news, more than it was breaking news. Not that it hasn’t or can’t break news … I just didn’t see it in this case. And spreading/connecting is a highly valuable thing. Reporting the news thus becomes a partnership between journalists and others on the ground who have cameras and cell phones.

    Anyway, I don’t think the “mainstream” media are or will be superfluous; they are and will be as critical as any other medium (social or otherwise) in reporting the news; as well as in the much needed task of sifting/filtering, as you noted.

  6. Good points all, Mindy.

    Yet, as anyone who has covered a breaking news event knows, much of the “initial” information that comes out proves to be wrong. It takes hours and sometimes days and weeks to sort through what is actually true. In this tragic story, probably the most serious rumors that could do long-term damage surrounds what group is behind the attacks.

    This is not to say that rumor-reporting and disinformation campaigns have not been present with the MSM — the problem is a long-standing one but one that seems to be growing.

    So, how do we balance the thirst for breaking news, the value of eyewitness reports and the spreading of unfounded rumors?

    I’m not sure what the answer is — maybe some version of #11: Truth squadding the reporting from the ground?

  7. @Scott – Excellent points, thanks! You are right, a lot of tweets provide links to MSM reports. So are the online channels really just functioning as amplifiers for the most up-to-date traditional journalism? On the other hand, if something in the traditional reports is inaccurate, I’ll bet we’d hear a refutation first online.

    A “partnership” indeed! That’s a good word choice and also a smart viewpoint for journalists to adopt.

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  9. 11) There will be to much noise and many rumors/false news and hate propoganda.
    12) Most of the people posting updates would be sitting in front of their TV and/or Comp far away from the affected region.

  10. Scott’s point is an important one.

    We might think of Twitter as a police scanner for bystanders. Like scanner traffic, these unconfirmed reports need to be checked out by someone.

    Like Scott, I found that much of what
    was on Twitter about Mumbai was repeating what people saw on traditional media. I’d get frustrated, but then I thought, if someone watches traditional media for an hour and finds one point worth sharing, and shares it, maybe Twitter is filtering the traditional media instead of the other way around.

    Maybe the message for the media is: Twitter your news or someone else will?

    Still, I get disappointed when so many of the Flickr photos of a big news story are like this:

  11. @Brian Cubbison – Yes, I always wonder who those people are who sit there making screen grabs from TV news and posting them on Flickr … on the other hand, I guess there’s some historical interest.

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  14. @Mindy McAdams & @Brian Cubbison:

    That’s my Flickr account you are referring to and I uploaded those screen grabs. For a reason — there were a lot of people online looking for some visual information, but did not have access to live video feeds (for various reasons).

    I was actually one of them, when I was at work during the day. So when I went home from work, I decided to upload screen grabs so that others looking for some visual information had access to it.

    It’s easy for you both to criticize without knowing the context and reason it was done.

  15. And BTW, a lot of people found it very useful, including NowPublic when they were doing some live reporting. I also allowed them to use some pictures of the Taj Mahal hotel that I had shot earlier in the month, when I had been to Mumbai (November).

  16. I’m shocked over point 9. If a reporter didn’t know that basic when being hired, I’d have them sacked. Being able to a) use your savvy to get to a phone and b) dictate the story are as essential as shorthand in my opinion.

  17. Dileepa, I appreciate your explanation. I’m not really criticizing whstever use you want to make of Flickr, just expressing some frustration with the reputation that others give it, that it’s mostly about original, immediate from-the-scene accounts. There always seems to be less of that than I hope to find.

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  30. Totally agree with your 10 points.
    I was one of the first pro-reporters into the Sichuan Quake zone back in May ’08.
    So, no power, no internet and a shaky mobile phone net.
    Old fashioned reporting was required – ie, gather a cross section of eye witness accounts and quickly build a network of contacts that will be vital for info in the days ahead.
    Other practical tips include:
    have a trusted assistant at the nearest town / city that has power and internet – this person will keep track of blogs, local TV reports and handle deliveries of content from the field;
    in the field, take stills and shoot tight video
    as if making a ready-edited TV report – then pay a motorcyclist to get the tape to your assistant;
    always have an updated voiced report at hand for when the net is up – for TV, radio and web;
    carry more than one phone and back-up batteries;
    tell newsrooms to be brief on the phone;
    drink plenty of water and learn to cat nap !

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