The short and quick answer to the question posed above is yes. There is no digitally based service that provides a better forum for quickly reporting and analyzing a situation based on the opportunity for a community to collectively report on a situation. But if you want a more detailed case for this argument, keep on reading…
I spent the bulk of my day today at the North American International Auto Show. In the process I became a reporter again. It was far from my first time at Detroit’s annual auto extravaganza as a member of the media, but it was the first time I’ve been to the show armed with so many devices, my iPhone and an array of social networking services that are followed by a reasonably sizable audience.
What happened was pretty inspiring. My coverage of the show Tuesday was truly a collaborative effort – an exercise in citizen journalism. During the course of the day, I had conversations about vehicles and the show with PR professionals (Scott Monty), Bloggers (Andrew Mrozinski at RideStory), Gearheads and interested non-auto professionals (Shelli Gutholm), both via Twitter and in real-time.
For the first time in quite a while, I was a journalist again. I snapped photos, shot video and immediately began transmitting short snippets and thoughts about the show via my Twitter feed, launching into conversations with fellow journalists, PR folks and gearheads. After my initial tweets began, I began talking about NAIAS with journalists and enthusiasts who couldn’t attend and was able to provide several of them with photos and information that they wanted to see on specific models. The photo below, for example, was requested by a Ford fan in Austin.
In short, the community at large shaped my story and the way I approached this year’s show. I didn’t explore and tweet about the show in the way I would have covered it. Instead, the tweets and brightkite posts I made were made about certain the vehicles were shaped by my audience.
What Twitter and microblogging services are providing us is a true citizen form of journalism, albeit a bit underutilized. Twitter needs to evolve to be a place where people go to for news other than just widely-discussed events like the North American International Auto Show. It’s here that traditional media outlets like @CNN, @FoxNews and @NYTimes have a real chance at involving their audience in the coverage of events and integrating it into all forms of media – print, digital and otherwise.
We need only look back to the attacks on Mumbai to see the true power of Twitter’s citizen journalism potential. According to New York Times research, at the peak of the violence, more than one message per second with the word “Mumbai” in it was being posted onto Twitter. But the traditional media outlets should create feeds of these tweets and help decipher, map and weave them into lengthier stories and microsites on their own Web sites to create a richer story. When the big media outlets truly empower the citizen reporter and make sense of the micro-blogosphere, truly powerful results can occur. Blogs have been doing this via commenting for years, but traditional media outlets have the unique perspective to use their credibility to empower truly passionate citizens. This is how newspapers in general began. It’s high time they returned to empowering the community and citizens that they serve.
What do you think? What’s standing in the way of Twitter becoming a truly amazing experiment in citizen journalism?