News That Means Business

August 25, 2011

After the Earthquake: A Multi-media Moment

By Caryl Bixon-Gordon
When the earthquake hit on Tuesday in Paramus, New Jersey, like many northeastern residents, I didn’t know what to do. I thought about having our staff stand in doorways as I remembered that advice from an earthquake I experienced in California. But since the shaking had stopped, I decided instead to find out if it was an earthquake, and we all agreed, the quickest source we could access was online. So we opened Twitter.

The first Tweet came about 1 minute after the quake with a tsunami warning for the Gowanus Canal. We were perplexed. I knew the Gowanus Expressway from traffic reports but didn’t know it also was a body of water. And a tsunami? So much for the credibility of Tweets.
Out of curiosity, I searched the Gowanus on Google and found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gowanus_Canal.

We stayed on Twitter for a while on Tuesday, and we also went to online news . . . and we called our mothers, husbands, kids and friends to find out if others felt what we did. They did – in Tenafly, Fair Lawn and Manchester, New Jersey; the personal first-hand reports were definite proof that the event was bigger than our office. Then, we turned on News 12. We kept it on the rest of the day as we all were somewhat unnerved; we wanted local news, and getting back to work just didn’t feel like business as usual.

On Wednesday, I turned on the Weather Channel as I always do. The meteorologists were tracking Hurricane Irene and highlighted topics from Twitter as part of their new social partnership. (I found myself impatient as I wanted to see the track of the storm.)
Broadcast news also used Tweets and Facebook posts, bringing a combination of local, regional, national and international perspective to their reports.

As a public relations professional, I drew three conclusions from the experiences of the earthquake: First: Social media is a valuable immediate news source, although not the last word and not always credible. Second: Traditional media sources continue to embrace social media, testing new ways to integrate these evolving sources of opinion and fact into their medium. Third: multi-tasking is fun.
And so, my preference for news is multiple screens and sources, like Tuesday, when one staff member was on Twitter, another on Facebook, several on the phones and one watching TV. It was a true multi-media moment at Caryl Communications.

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