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Twitter Can Be Vital In Covering Breaking News — A Non-Journalist Teaches Us How

By Sree Sreenivasan | March 15, 2010 12:52pm | Updated on March 15, 2010 12:15pm
Miracle on the Hudson
Miracle on the Hudson
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Janis Krums

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contrubuting Editor

At a lot of news events these days, the first and most iconic image doesn't come from a professional journalist. 

Take the Miracle on the Hudson. Janis Krums, an Florida-based entrepreneur visiting New York City who was on a ferry that rescued the passengers of Flight 1549, did what any 20-something with an iPhone would do: He took a photo and tweeted about it.

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I am on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy."

By uploading the photo to the Twitpic photo-sharing tool, he unknowingly created the most widely-seen photo and tweet of 2009, and also highlighted the power of the so-called "real-time Web."  When he got to shore, MSNBC wanted to put him on the air.

As journalists take to social media to keep up with breaking news, there’s a lot they can learn a lot from this non-journalist's experience.  Here are some lessons:

* The power of Twitter is in the retweet: Too many journalists think that the power of Twitter lies in the tweet itself. But retweets amplify the original tweet exponentially. Krums sent his original tweet to his 170 followers, but they were able to send it to thousands of others.

* Learn new technologies: Krums says you have to be on top of these services so you can be prepared, cultivate relationships, and know what you're doing. If you had just signed up on Twitter the day the plane had hit the Hudson, you wouldn't think to post there, he says. "You really have to try to be proactive in finding out services that can help you."

* You have to get your content out to the world: Even if you have the biggest scoop in the world, if it just sits in your camera, your computer or in your head, you won't get noticed. Journalists have to work to get the word out. At DNAinfo, we are working with our reporter-producers to attract attention to the work they do.

* There's lots of luck involved: Krums happened to be in the right place at the right time; his iPhone happened to have enough juice; he had a strong cell signal; no one else on the boat had the presence of mind to use Twitter like he did.

* The power of the still photograph: Even though we live in a video world, the Hudson story shows us the power of the still photograph. There was continuous live video of the rescue from cameras on the shore and on news choppers (and later, even surveillance video of the plane landing), but this single shot endures as the most memorable image from the event.

* People will grab your intellectual property and use it as they see fit: His photo was reproduced without his permission on various sites and shown on TV around the world. Only much later did a few outlets and magazines, seek reprint rights and pay Krums any money. Krums himself didn't mind, but it shows you what can happen in today's media climate. And, yes, we did get his permission to run it here.

* You have to be a good listener on Twitter: The fact that an MSNBC producer got to Krums so quickly is a sign that the producer was listening on social media, not just using it to point at his/her own work.

Krums recently won "Real-time Photo of the Year" at the Shorty Awards, which honor excellence — such as it is — on Twitter. I was a judge, along with folks like MC Hammer and Alyssa Milano (let's just say my inner 17-year-old was happy). Last week, I invited Krums to chat with my students at Columbia Journalism School, and you can see that conversation, recorded via Twitcam, a free instant video streaming service.

What other lessons might there be in Krums's story? Share them in the comments section below.

You can follow Krums on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jkrums; his blog is http://jkru.ms

Every Monday, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan shares his observations about the changing media landscape.