One of the biggest stories in the media world right now is the growth of social media as a major source of breaking news.We saw this in January with the rapid spread of the news about the Haitian earthquake spreading by Facebook and Twitter, not only among individuals, but also through news organizations.
Before that it was news from the election protests out of Iran and from the 2008 terror attacks from Mumbai. These are all stories where the news itself was flowing via social media, not just links to the legacy (MSM) media.
But this weekend the story of social media as a source of news became personal for me. A source of community journalism.
The news of the earthquake in Chile on Saturday hit my family with a shock. Benny, one of my eldest's best friends, is on a Rotary student exchange to Chile right now, and his host city is about 60 miles or so from the epicenter of the quake. To make matters worse, his mother was visiting him. All of Benny's friend's started posting "Tell us you are alive" messages to his Facebook page. All of his dad's friends (myself included) started posting "Tell us Benny and Roz are ok" messages to his Facebook page.
Benny's dad quickly got the word out that he had heard nothing, but was assuming that meant everyone was ok. He also told us to keep watching Facebook for updates. Later in the day, he announced that Benny and his mom were safe, traveling about 500 miles from where the quake had happened. It was an enormous relief to us all.
I've been writing for a couple of years about how important social media are as a source of breaking news. I've joked about how all the news I need I can get from Facebook. But this time I mean it - Social media are great sources of news when you want it to be about your own community, your own group of people you care about. And this is something all news media, including community media, really need to understand.