The text message from my daughter was only one word long: “Tornadoes!!”
I read it as I left the stage from a morning presentation at the Print & ePublishing Conference in Washington, DC. During the lunch break I headed to my hotel room.
I immediately called her and the lines weren’t connecting…text was all I had. I asked what was going on. After a stressful text exchange I learned my boys had ridden their bikes to school, which would let out at 11:30, during a Tornado Warning for that part of Kansas City. She was sitting in front of the school in her car to pick them up since it was raining…but they weren’t there.
She was scared.
I was scared.
Between texts I was trying to get a handle on the situation through traditional media. I went to kansascity.com (the website of the Kansas City Star). They had a story about tornadoes in the area, but nothing recent enough. Tornadoes move quickly and in this situation I wanted to know what was happening “Now!”
I went to the television station websites hoping for current information…nope.
Just then I received a broadcast text from the school informing me the teachers and students were in the Tornado Shelter at the school. I texted my daughter of the boys’ status and told her to go inside and join them. She replied “idk. I have texted them a thousand times.”
I replied “THEY ARE IN A TORNADO SHELTER IN THE SCHOOL. GO INSIDE NOW!!” I screamed at my daughter with my thumbs.
This is where the shift in my brain happened. This is when, for the first time in my life, I realized I could not rely on traditional media. I turned to Twitter.
Launching twitter.com I did a search for kansas city tornado. Immediately I was seeing tweets of sightings and the neighborhoods. I learned how close these beasts were to three of my children. Every MINUTE I was getting new information. There were hundreds of reporters all over the city giving me the information I needed, while the traditional media’s stories were just getting older and more out of date.
I’m not new to the concepts of Twitter and it’s impact on the world. I followed the peaceful revolution in Egypt, much of it reported through Twitter. I followed Tweets from Libya as reporters and citizens were risking their lives to get the word out. I thought it was fascinating how the attack on Osama Bin Laden’s compound was being reported through Tweets, even though the “reporter” didn’t know what was going on.
What I’m writing here isn’t anything new…just the first time it got this personal and I truly felt the impact of this new media.
A lot was going on in a short period of time…texts, following twitter, trying to find more on TV or websites. Through it all it was the texting and the Twitter that kept me up to date.
In the end, all was fine. No harm to anyone or any property, but two lessons were learned: Social media CAN outperform what traditional media currently offers with immediate information, but it comes with a very high price tag: Nobody is filtering before it reaches the end user.
I thought it was interesting how there was an alert that read “TURN UP YOUR TELEVISIONS AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE AND SEEK SHELTER IN YOUR BASEMENT…ETC!” As I read this I was thinking “GRAB YOUR SMART PHONE, FOLLOW TWITTER AND HEAD TO YOUR BASEMENT…ETC!”
So why is traditional media like television in a storm still relevant? Because not everyone has smart phones, or WIFI or laptops to take with them to a shelter. Today, we still need traditional media for a percentage of the audience…but that will change.
Aside from the above instance, yesterday traditional media failed hugely meeting my needs as a member of it’s audience.
Are we willing to pay the price? As I was reading the Tweets about the storm, there was one that popped up and read something like “Massive destruction in the storm’s path all across Kansas City” or something to that effect. It didn’t sound right. It didn’t fit. All of the other Tweets were mentioning where and what, but nothing quite as apocalyptic as this Tweet made it out to be. I had to filter it. Throw it away. Recognize it was just a bored Tweeter trying to, we’ll just say, play a prank.
Can everyone do this? Remember the old story of War of the Worlds read by Orson Wells and supposedly there were people who believed it and starting packing up. It was radio. It was a book. But it was Orson Wells, and he really can spin a good yarn, but aside from that it was something that people couldn’t filter truth from fiction.
Apply this logic to social media and you see how dangerous it can be.
A good friend of mine, Kris Coppieters, was telling the story last night about how in Christ Church, New Zealand, after the recent earthquake, local police were verifying Tweets. According to him, police were following the Tweets and would act on the information. If it was true, they would reply with “verified.”
Think about this for a second. The role of the media in the past has been to gather, filter and deliver the news…all the news that’s fit to print, anyway. How dramatically has that changed in some instances, like I’m describing here. The citizens are reporting the “news” and the police are filtering it. Wow! Exciting in this example, could be very scary in others.
For two years I’ve been asking newspapers “who is going to reinvent the newspaper business?” The challenge is to us, as an industry, to reinvent ourselves. At least yesterday, however, the newspaper industry was reinvented by a social media tool.
QUESTION: Do you have a personal example of where Social Media has served you in ways Traditional Media can’t? What was it and can you give an example of where you had to filter through the message and authenticate instead of trusting verbatim?