Monday, March 30, 2009

The problem with newspapers

It is 1:07 on a Monday morning. Omaha is the scene of yet another random atrocity on the American scene.

According to a witness, an elderly couple has been murdered in Midtown, and a suspect may have barricaded himself (herself?) in the house at some point. The neighborhood is cordoned off; the city's main thoroughfare has just reopened.

Dozens of cops and the SWAT team descended on the scene. Grieving relatives show up at the police command post.

I learned little of this from the Omaha World-Herald, the city's daily newspaper. I heard something big was going on in Midtown from Facebook. Then I found a running account of the action on Twitter . . . from someone observing from across the street.

THIS IS ALL that's on the World-Herald website at the moment:
Police called to Dundee home; Two people found dead

The scene at 112 S. 50th St. where at two people were found dead is secure, Omaha police said.

Police gained entrance to the house, but the team would not say if someone is in custody.

Firefighters were first called to the home at 10:24 p.m. on the report of an unconscious person.

A SWAT team was called in and was stationed at a gas station at 50th and Dodge Streets. An Omaha Police Department mobile command center was set up oustide the home.

Dodge Street reopened about 12:45 a.m. The only street still closed is 50th Street for a one-block area.
THAT'S IT. Meanwhile, this is the eyewitness account I'm getting from Twitter (newest "tweets" are at the top):

A cop just shined a light through my window at me. Busted!
18 minutes ago from TwitterFon

A few relatives (?) are here now grieving. So so sad. They went into the huge command center vehicle.
21 minutes ago from TwitterFon

The fire truck left and now the spotlight isn't on the house. Can't see much, I think they are reopening dodge
24 minutes ago from TwitterFon

I just want to get back to work but @mrlasertron won't let me turn lights on :
26 minutes ago from TwitterFon

@gabek the whole street is blocked. Show channel 6 my tweets! :D
28 minutes ago from TwitterFon in reply to gabek

@jjsnyc across the street at 50th and dodge
29 minutes ago from TwitterFon in reply to jjsnyc

LOL a huge optimus prime " Omaha police mobile command center" just rolled in. Bigger than a Winnebago.
39 minutes ago from TwitterFon

Now a guy in a suit and gloves walked in slowly with a bug group of new officers who just arrived. No guns out now.
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon

Now they are looking in the backyard shed. I wonder if that means the gunman wasn't in the house? Sucks if he's loose!
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon

We are all safe here, the street is swarming with officers and everything is barricaded.
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon

@rahulgupta haha I could knit a badge and go check it out
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon in reply to rahulgupta

@CatRocketship what were you celebrating??!
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon in reply to CatRocketship

@rahulgupta I'm in my house!
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon in reply to rahulgupta

There are two teams of a dozen officers each. The first team entered the house through the back and I see them through the windows. Yelling.
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon

Holy s they're moving in, rifles drawn
about 1 hour ago from TwitterFon

I'm so bummed, they were a sweet couple with lots of grandchildren who always visited.
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

The gunman is barricaded inside a house and there are "at least" two deaths
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

Oh my gosh it's a double homicide
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

They have a barricade and shields!!!
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

And another car...I count 28 cops/emergency responder people
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

Wow two more cop cars just showed up. I wonder what's going on.
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

Six squad cars, a firetruck, and an ambulance with the street blocked off
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

Livetweeting 14 cops with shotguns outside my house at 50th and dodge :
about 2 hours ago from TwitterFon

TECHNOLOGY has changed the game irreversibly for the news media. The only question remaining is whether the press will adapt and use the Internet -- specifically social media -- or whether it will be steamrolled by it.

In this instance, while reporters were kept behind police lines -- literally and figuratively in the dark -- an across-the-street neighbor was giving continuous updates to the world. A world better informed about a breaking-news story than were the reporters sent to cover it.

Understand the implications here: A cell phone and Twitter in the hands of a neighbor on the scene has rendered the professional media useless. The gatekeepers have been stormed and tossed aside.

Print reporters -- at least at a lot of newspapers -- just don't comprehend what good tools Twitter and Facebook are for keeping one's "ear to the ground."

WHAT'S FRUSTRATING is that a savvy editor or reporter -- upon hearing the first radio call on the police scanner -- could have started doing advanced Twitter searches and, soon enough, found what I did this morning.

"Old school," for that matter, could have worked just as well. A reporter or editor could have dragged out the newsroom's reverse phone directory and started calling neighbors to find out what they were seeing.

It's not brain surgery. But in this technological age, it is a matter of life and death.

For traditional media.

No comments: