You couldn’t ask for a better case study of media fragmentation than the crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 in San Francisco – ground zero for the invention of social media and leading example of its use.
Social media coverage of the Asiana Boeing 777 crash landing points out the dramatic differences in news coverage of disasters from yesteryear and today.
And some of it raises questions:
- What are the facts being tweeted? And who checked them?
- How does a citizen journalist capture the emotion credibly?
- How does a professional editor publish a coherent news summary?
- How does a 140-character tweet (or even a series of tweets) provide accurate context about a disaster before returning to chit-chat and check-ins?
- Does a picture really say a thousand words? And shouldn’t a few of those words question the wisdom of passengers hauling carry-on bags down the escape slide?
- How do all of these issues relate to the powerful video evidence of the crash captured by amateur cameraman Fred Hayes of the crash landing?
The obvious difference in then-and-now coverage is the immediacy of details available from diverse sources -- both accurate and inaccurate -- including video and photo facts as well as instant analysis, theories and conjecture.
Mainstream media’s challenge continues to be reporting accurately for those who choose not to be part of the always-connected world. (By the way, that’s most of us who sleep every day.)
Part of that challenge is advancing the story with relevant social media and filtering the noise without losing the diversity of everyman perspective.
In 1989 there was no Twitter, Facebook or online media for the masses. I was a newspaper editor at The Chicago Tribune when United Airlines flight 232 crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa en route to Chicago from Denver.
After a catastrophic explosion in the tail-mounted engine of the DC-10, the cockpit crew heroically (as it was later reported) managed to fly and land the crippled plane. There were 185 survivors and 111 killed in the crash, and one survivor died days later.
The real-time witnesses to the crash of United 232 were limited to the passengers and crew on board, the people at the Sioux City airport and viewers later of a video that recorded the landing.
The Tribune dispatched a team of reporters to interview survivors, families, first-responders and officials. It was hours – even days – before we had many basic details of the incident, let alone the causes. There was no way to make the reporters’ notes public in real time, which would have been unthinkable back then.
Admittedly, each air disaster is different, as is the date in history when it occurs. And many details of the Asiana 214 crash emerged so quickly because of reports by televised mainstream media with a huge assist by social media.
But, is what emerged at SFO in tweeted videos, photos and emotional messages the whole story or just a meaningful slice of the story?
Are critical elements of the story merely me-first and me-too reporting … piling on in re-tweeted shout-outs … or, in some actual cases at SFO, the heartfelt and genuine emotional release from sharing, “I walked away alive”?
Many in the vocal new generation of information consumers say they mistrust or are “bored” by information filters and editors.
Previous generations depended upon filters (namely, reporters, editors and publishers) to stay informed, and they rightly trusted filters, albeit at their peril without healthy skepticism.
Today, are broadcasting opinions in social media and aggregating everything else – chunks of it dubiously sourced then repeated unfiltered by so many self-appointed experts -- really the best way to inform people?
It’s exhausting, and we’re all still figuring out that balance.
NB: Here is the video from Hayes:
NB2: Aftermath pic via David Eun on Twitter.