In an unusual departure into uncharted waters (sic), both for me and US Airways Flight 1549, the recent air crash is an opportunity to discuss good news for a change. While an air crash may at first seem an extremely unlikely source of good news, in this instance it really is, since it is the first occasion in nearly half a century that an airliner has crash-landed onto water without fatalities.
Widely dubbed in the media as ‘The Miracle on the Hudson’, the aircraft, a US Airways Airbus A320, ditched into the Hudson River shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, New York, on route to Charlotte, North Carolina, after apparently colliding with a flock of geese. The ‘double bird strike’ caused the aircraft’s jet engines to fail and left the pilot with little option but to ditch into the river. Amazingly, all of the 155 people on board survived, despite the hazardous crash-landing in freezing conditions.
What makes the event particularly interesting from a social media perspective is that news of the air crash was reported early by posts on Twitter. Often referred to as ‘micro-blogging’, Twitter refers to itself as ‘a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices.’
This instant accessibility enables subscribers – the ‘Twitterati’ – to send and/or receive (highly abbreviated) updates from friends and family, and/or breaking world news. One such shining example is the remarkable image of the stricken aircraft in the water, which was posted onto Twitpic just five minutes after the plane crash-landed in the river, with the unavoidably concise but still informative message, ‘There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.’
The implications for the media and the future of this ‘citizen journalism’ are profound, since it clearly demonstrates the power and immediacy of eyewitness reports over traditional media reporting. Simply by virtue of possessing an iPhone, a Twitter and Twitpic account, and close proximity to a happy/unhappy accident (depending upon where in the Hudson you were sitting at the time), a random individual found himself effectively the first journalist at the scene; an unwitting witness of the crash became an instant, accidental amateur journalist, making headlines worldwide.
Some media commentators suggest that media reporting may never be the same again, as recognised in the recent BBC News Technology Blog article ‘Twitter and a Classic Picture’, which describes Twitpic as ‘helping in the transformation of Twitter from a pared-down messaging tool into a multimedia service – and a great platform for citizen journalism.’
Fittingly, the pilot of the stricken aircraft has been commended universally for the skilful crash-landing, and in some quarters hailed as ‘the Hero of the Hudson’; Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger is a former US Navy pilot and was the last person to abandon the aircraft after checking for any remaining passengers or crew.
Of course, in these days of fevered speculation and scurrilous rumour that pass for news, we’re probably just hours (and a few ‘Tweets’) away from learning that he was in fact completely responsible for the disaster due to gross incompetence and chronic alcoholism…
Watch this (or that, or the other) space!