At 7:22 pm saw the following post on Facebook:
"Columbia folks, explosion info?"
Followed shortly by another:
"Earthquake? Explosion? House just shook!"
And then the conversations were percolating all over the place. The best information was coming from the gentleman who knew how to follow the Howard County Police & Fire live web feed. News was spreading by word of mouth from one Facebook thread to another. Unbelievably, some people hopped in their cars to go take a look and post photos. (In my opinion, not a recommended course of action.)
Social media allows us the ability to do this. And in times of crisis it can be very helpful. We're not alone. We can share what knowledge we have.
But, at the very same time, our local journalists were going into high gear. First Amanda Yeager, then Andrew Michaels, then Kevin Rector (out of Baltimore) went to work collecting information and getting it out to the public on Twitter. A preliminary story went up online, followed later by more complete coverage. (Note: BaltSun reporter Colin Campbell also worked on this story.)
At some point I noticed that television stations were mobilizing to get teams out to the scene. I have to admit I wasn't as interested in that. I don't know those people. They don't have a local connection. I appreciate that they are doing their jobs, and certainly fires and the aftermath of explosions make for great footage. Wouldn't it be great if we had our own television station?
Smack dab in the middle of all this was a very local journalist, Tara Boyle, of NPR/WAMU. Why? She lives here, not all that far from where this happened. It didn't matter to her that it was supposed to be a normal evening at home. Once the explosion occurred, she went to work. She was at the scene, sharing information on Facebook and Twitter, shooting still photos and conducting interviews.
Social media gives us a feeling sometimes that we are all reporting the news. We can all be citizen journalists. If you have a computer, an internet connection, and a camera on your smart phone, why not? That's all you need, right?
Last night should be another reminder to us of how much we need professional journalists. Social media produces an onslaught of personal experiences. Some may be accurate, some not. Journalists are trained not just to "cover a story" but to assess information, to look for the truth, as best it can be found in the constantly changing maelstrom of an ongoing crisis. It takes training, and practice, and a special kind of insight.
A tip of the hat to our local journalists this morning. And a huge HoCo Holler to all our first responders who battled the fire and cared for residents.
"@RectorSun: Lessons from a long day reporting: Always run to the news, and be thankful you have a home to return to when you can."