I occasionally listen in on debates over the importance of social media to old media folks. On those occasions when I jump in, I talk about immediacy, crowd sourcing — once you’ve made the effort to verify the information, of course.
As I’ve said before, the folks I work with, while a little skeptical, have done their best to embrace the technology available to us. But like other traditional media outlets, we’re not always able to move as quickly as we could.
Illustration from just a little while ago: the fire at the Allegheny County Courthouse. I didn’t hear about this first on the PG’s site or from any of the TV stations; I heard about it first on Twitter from my buddy Chachi, who works in One Oxford Center, an office building adjacent to the courthouse. Here’s a little timeline:
1:55 p.m.: Chachi: the court house steeple is smoking pretty badly.
2:08: Chachi (along with the above picture): court house is on fire.
After Chachi posted the pic, I started checking with the sites of the city’s two newspapers and three TV stations, to see who was on top of this one. I started looking around 2:10 p.m.; at that point, the PG had a short item in its breaking news list. None of the TV stations had a mention, and the Trib’s site was down.
(Note: Given the troubles we have with our own site, I am in no way poking fun at the Trib’s technical difficulties. It happens, often at the worst possible time.)
2:22 p.m.: PG has a second update. Trib’s still down. Nothing from the TV stations.
2:30 p.m.: KDKA is the first station to post a pic and a brief. Trib’s still down. Neither WPXI nor WTAE have a mention.
2:45 p.m.: Trib is up, but without a mention of the fire. WPXI has a pic and a brief, which is attributed to the Trib. WTAE has nothing.
3 p.m.: The PG has its third update published. The Trib has a short story. WTAE finally caught up with its TV competitors with a pic and a brief.
At that point, everyone was caught up and I had my own work to do, so I stopped checking. But I couldn’t shake the notion that this was an excellent illustration of why us old-media types can’t afford to dismiss social media. If Chachi — or any of the other folks who tweeted descriptions or pictures of what they saw — was the competition, we got our butts kicked this afternoon.
I’m not saying that the traditional media outlets necessarily did anything wrong today — although I’ll admit to being a little surprised at how long it took for the TV stations to get this story up on their respective sites. But there is a lesson here. If you’re paying attention to social media, chances are good you’re going to get on the story in a hurry. But if you dismiss Twitter as twenty-something navel-gazing, you risk getting left behind.