It’s also the day that citizen journalism and Twitter transformed the way news is covered around the world.
In 2009, the U.S. Airways flight that “Captain Sulley” was piloting hit a flock of birds, disabling the plane’s engines. Captain Sulley and his crew managed to safely land the aircraft on New York’s Hudson River. Images of 155 passengers standing on the wings of the plane awaiting rescue on that frigid January day were splashed across the media and Internet.
And this was the day a man named Janis Krums (Yanis Krooms) made the news media and ordinary citizens come to realize that the world no longer needed a professional news crew to report breaking news.
On January 15, 2009, every person in the world was given a press pass.
It’s the technology, silly
Krums was on a ferry when Flight 1549 crashed on the Hudson. When I interviewed him about the famous picture he took moments after the crash, he told me others on the boat were taking pictures with their cell phones, so he took a few, too.
But it was Krums who knew how to use his technology and tweet the picture. His 300 Twitter followers helped the picture to go viral, bringing citizen journalism to a new level. Krums notes that he didn’t send the picture to any media outlets; he merely tweeted it to his followers.
“At that moment, I saw the value in what it was, but I didn’t see the value of what it could become,” said Krums. ”I don’t think anyone could see that it could be spread around the world the way it was.”
Since that day, Krums has been labeled “the most famous citizen journalist of modern times.”
During the past four years, we’ve seen the challenges that come with news that breaks real-time on Twitter and social media. We are grappling with the general public that uses their technology to capture breaking news. The problem is that most don’t understand the true responsibilities that come with a press pass.
Consider these examples:
- The capture of Osama Bin Laden
- The Newtown, CT school shootings
- The Gabby Giffords shooting in Arizona
- Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters
- The deaths of celebrities including Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston
Each of these has forced us to rethink the power of the Internet and the (hopefully) well-intentioned citizen journalists. People who are inexperienced in fact-checking and accuracy have brought a new layer to breaking news.
Misinformation when reporting developing news stories is dangerous.
As Krums told me, news will be reported, no matter what. ”The way it’s being reported is continuing to evolve. Traditional journalists will always be second on the scene from now on, especially in the developed world. That’s because more people have iPhones, smartphones, and video capability. If you have the ability to spread the message, you have the power.”
Let this serve as a reminder to each of us, including the mainstream media, that fact-checking and accuracy must be the priorities in covering the news.
Anything less can not and should not be tolerated.