This week, Atlanta has been awash with flooding, with water reaching waist-high in some areas as residents try to save their families and a few belongings.
It's not the news media that is reporting up-to-the-minute information to aid the citizens of Atlanta, however; it's hashtags, as Andria Krewson has noted.
One hashtag in particular: #atlflood. That tag has provided a stream of content for residents to stay informed of new areas of flooding, road closures and even information on when and how to boil safe drinking water. As the flood waters rose, the information stream helped victims and concerned citizens connect, update and educate one another with the latest news.
A lot of questions have risen lately on whether Twitter and other social media platforms are "real" journalism and whether they will replace traditional mainstream media reporting. In a Twitter discussion in the Knight Pulse community, which is designed to discuss the future of news and information needs in a democracy (full disclosure: I'm Community Manager there and handle the Twittter stream), the question arose again today. This time, one member had an insightful comment:
Indeed; why not both? Twitter has its strengths. A TwitPic of flood waters was posted immediately and garnered tens of thousands of views by followers hungry for information:
And the LA Times' coverage was just as newspaper reporting should be: thorough, fact-checked, well-structured, and posted a few hours after the barrage of Tweets and TwitPics that represented bits of citizen information reported via the #atlflood tag. This type of reporting has value. As consumers of news, we have come to expect a level of professionalism and reliability from news outlets such as the LA Times. While we might not be inclined to disbelieve , we also might have some skepticism about some of the news and observations posted to the Twitter steam.
In short, media consumers need both. There is value to the type of information that is available through tools such as a Twitter hashtag: breaking news on where flooding is getting worse, citizen photos, tips, check-ins for safety, advice on evacuation. That is, the type of news that is of immediate help to those in the midst of the situation. There is also a value to the reporting the LA Times provides, the type of aggregation of facts and analysis of the overall situation that is valuable to those not immediately affected by it but interested in the eventual outcome.
Both media can live happily side by side, I'm convinced. I would not want to see a world without responsible, fact-checked, analytical journalism any more than I'd want to see a world in which citizens couldn't communicate immediate news and needs via Twitter.
We need both. We have both. Let's use both.