Twitter Reporting On The China Earthquake


May 12, 2008, China Earthquake

The May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province, China, has killed a reported 12,000 people. Media from around the world and rescue workers are having a difficult time reaching the victims and accurately reporting information on the damage. But there was no hesitation for those noting the exact moment the earthquake struck. Updates are available in real time from people in the middle of everything, thanks to Twitter. One mostly-English page of Tweets is here.

In the early 1990s, the Gulf War was nicknamed “The Nintendo War” because it came to viewers via TV images of overnight airstrikes, lit up in green, and because the NES was still the premiere game console, at least in the eyes of mainstream media. Is this the first step in a Twitter Nation? Media watchers have alternately praised and criticized the rise of blogs as a news powerhouse.

One writer who lives about 950 miles from the center of the quake (but still in China) said he first heard about the earthquake on Twitter, and that information from users was more accurate than the reporting by major media outlets, online and otherwise. Another took a look at online statistics: the top URLs were a Google Maps look at the quake’s epicenter and a report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Does the Twitter reporting on the China earthquake mean old-fashioned newspaper, radio and TV news reports are a thing of the past? Not while Twitter remains a minor means of communication (only 700,000 or so people are public Twitter users). But it does indicate that journalism may need to turn to the public more often, as long as their on-the-scene statements can be verified.