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.


  1. I regularly have conversations with IRL friends and break out things that I never would have known without Twitter. And I usually get a blank stare and a “How did you know that?” reply. It really is amazing how much info you can pick up just from a few minutes here and there following the right sources in social media.


  2. I used to check CNN and the PG forst thing in the morning for the news. I still get around to them, but by the time I hit the ground most of the key stuff is in my Twitter feed. (Also, I never recovered from CNN’s new layout- man, I hate it now).


  3. I knew some one who I thought worked in the building that didn’t answer the work or cell phone. I had the same experience trolling the usual media sites. IPhone to the rescue as I monitored the PBF feed I realized all were safe and it wasn’t a fully involved structure. Nice job Chachi! And good analysis UC


  4. COMPLETELY off topic, but that photo is creepy, in that the more you look at it, the clearer it becomes. Odd.

    But yeah, I only heard of the court house fire on twitter; it seems the news completely forgot about it by 6 pm.


    1. I thought the same thing about the pic. It has a strange in-and-out-of-focus quality, kind of like those 3-D pictures that were a big freaking deal a few years ago.

      You’re right about the TV coverage too — it was buried. There was a lot going on that day, but a fire in a fairly significant downtown building probably should have been a bigger deal.


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