Thursday, March 12, 2009

What does twitter mean for breaking news stories? The ISS near-collision case study

On Thursday morning (US Pacific Time), March 12, 2009, a piece of debris came close enough the International Space Station to require the astronauts to take refuge in the Soyez module, just in case there was a collision. In the end, the debris passed by without incident.

I experienced this event almost entirely through twitter. This essay is to share my experience about how this is an example of ways in which somebody can follow news in a format completely different from conventional news reporting. This experience is, obviously, peculiar to me, in that only I follow my set of twitter users, and this is my personal reaction to it. However, I believe that this kind of process is starting to occur for many more people and it changes the way those people will use conventional news reporting.


I first really noticed the issue when a friend and colleague Dave Mosher (@Disco_Dave) retweeted something from Nancy Atkinson (@Nancy_A) about the potential problem. I started to pay a little more attention, started to follow Nancy, who hadn't been in my stream. Why did I first notice it from Dave's tweet? Because I know him, trust him, and find plenty of good information in his tweets, so I tend to pay more attention to them. (The existence of these trust relationships is critical in the use of social media.)

Thanks to Nancy for being the key person reporting the story and contributing so much via twitter.

At this point, I'd suggest you read my twitter stream below. I have just pulled out the tweets relevant to the ISS incident. Read them from bottom to top, just as they would have appeared in twitter. The way I copied and pasted them, they don't have a proper timestamp on each item, but you'll get a sense for the progress of time relative to the time I cut off the stream and copied and pasted it. Re-reading a list of tweets is not really an authentic experience but I include them for reference and to give an example of what I am talking about. I left in some of the meta-narrative about what this all means for news reporting, and it is that set of tweets that gave me the reason for writing this essay.

(Here is where you step out of this discussion and read the twitter stream from bottom to top!)

As you first look at this compilation, you might be inclined to think, "Wow, that's a lot of writing for not a great deal of information." I definitely thought that when I looked back over what had been written. But keep in mind that this came through in real time so it only took a few seconds to glance at each post and I was looking at it in the background while doing other work.

As I read back over the stream, it reminded me of how much I felt a sense of being embedded in the narrative. As I experienced this live, I also felt like I was getting as much information as I wanted/needed to have a good sense of what was occurring.

Alan Boyle made a comment: "Twitter appears to have accelerated news cycle on something that has in the past been not that big of a deal." That really got me thinking about what else there might be to know about this and I wondered how it would be reported once the conventional media (which includes online reporting) got on top of the story. (He is right that this might not have been a big deal. I probably wouldn't have even bothered reading past the headline about this if it were written up as a story.)

When I started seeing some news pieces popping up in the stream after the event was over, I took a look only to find almost no new information beyond what I had seen in the twitter stream. I felt that the news stories had an awful lot of words for not much information.

I mentioned that in a tweet and had varying responses to the proposition. In one case, I was offered an example of a story that was supposed to counter my experience. But when I read the story, the only extra information I obtained was a specific detail about the part that was the debris. Frankly, I didn't care too much about that extra piece unless it had a lot of other context (which wasn't in the story).

I am sure that those news stories were of use to many people but, for me, having followed the stream, there was simply nothing extra added. That is not to say there can't be value added, just that it wasn't yet happening. I'd also suggest it on the spot is too soon for it to happen, as adding that value will take real reporting, reflection, and contextualizing.

My greatest concern about reporting in a case like this is that in the rush to get out news stories online, only the basic facts are included. That is information I could get easily in many different ways—getting collecting facts for a story like this will be an almost automated process in the future, and we are nearly there now as seen by this example in twitter space.

Those stories are often not followed up with the analysis and context that a good human reporter can add. If journalists want to prove their worth in an age when fact collection is easy, they are going to have to show they have more to offer than being stenographers and basic compositors of facts.

"But what about a sense of story?" I hear you ask (and was indeed asked about explicitly on twitter). Reading back over the twitter stream, I realized just how much story actually was included. There was building drama, human elements, tension, and many other aspects of narrative. Indeed, I am sure that it was the presence of those story-telling observations that let me feel I was embedded in the story. I lived the experience through the eyes of others who were paying even closer attention than I was.

So what is missing from the twitter stream? The bigger picture. How much of a risk is space debris really? What does it mean for the future of the ISS and other space travel? How does the recent collision in space affect future space operations?

Even those questions were getting some treatment as tweeters added links to background information that already existed on the Web.

From the scan of news stories posted at this time, I'm not seeing any real value beyond the twitter stream. Whether these are followed up and in what way will say a lot about the state of journalism in a media environment with instant information tools like twitter.

I'm not expecting a lot but will watch people like Alan Boyle closely as there are people out there taking real advantage of the opportunities offered by the highly-connected online world.

=========================
BadAstronomer To celebrate the survival of the ISS, I have made chocolate pretzels. 5 minutes ago from TweetDeck

b0yle Another blast from the past on orbital debris:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id...19 minutes ago from web

alexismadrigal In the last 10 years, 8 "collision avoidance maneuvers" have kept the ISS from getting hit by big debris:http://snurl.com/dog4g23 minutes ago from twhirl

physicsdavid @robinlloyd99 Fair enough to not be convinced, but there is a class of people who are getting info in diff ways that devalues trad stories.39 minutes ago from TweetDeck in reply to robinlloyd99

robinlloyd99 @physicsdavid I'm not convinced yet. I collect 'em all.41 minutes ago from web in reply to physicsdavid

BadAstronomer ISS collision event update:http://tinyurl.com/cxl656about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck

physicsdavid @robinlloyd99 Yes for some those stories will add value. But as more get info other places, like twitter, "normal" forms have less value.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to robinlloyd99

b0yle Here's a useful FAQ that addresses debris issue:http://tinyurl.com/by4ssaabout 1 hour ago from web

robinlloyd99 @physicsdavid for me, story added value, via narrative form. had stuff i hadn't read (or had time to read) on Twitter.about 1 hour ago from web in reply to physicsdavid

newscientist Orbiting garbage causes space station crew to evacuate http://tinyurl.com/dysspjabout 1 hour ago from web

physicsdavid @robinlloyd99 Not to criticize the piece but just saying that so much was tweeted that I am more interest in the possible value add. 2/2about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to robinlloyd99

physicsdavid @robinlloyd99 Except the only info there I hadn't already heard in tweets was the type of motor. Not much added value for the length. 1/2about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to robinlloyd99

robinlloyd99 @physicsdavid Here's our 'more to say than can be tweeted':http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/090312-space-station-debris.htmlabout 1 hour ago from web in reply to physicsdavid

physicsdavid @chagota Indeed those comments about reporting model were meant in general. Just hooking into rapidity of ISS story as example.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to chagota

bobfinn RT @jbhathaw: RT @anneminard: The piece of debris that almost nailed the space station was a whopping .009 meters (0.3 inches) wide.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck

chagota @physicsdavid ... of course, previous comments were outside of ISS . I saw in your statement how it can be applied to news in general.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to physicsdavid

anneminard The piece of debris that almost nailed the space station was a whopping .009 meters (.3 inces) wide.about 1 hour ago from web

physicsdavid @spacewriter I think that reflection is precisely where we add value. So perhaps we need a model that has rapid info dump + analysis laterabout 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to spacewriter

spacewriter @physicsdavid agree -- the rapid dump is important, although it can be written to indicate that analysis is needed when enough info is hadabout 1 hour ago from web in reply to physicsdavid

physicsdavid @cosmos4u I agree. @b0yle is doing precisely what good journalists can achieve in the fast-paced online news world.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to cosmos4u

BadAstronomer I'm hearing now it was not the entire PAM that passed the ISS, but just a small part with a mass of about 1 kg.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck

Exoplanetology The song "Fragile" (by "God is an Astronaut") popped up on my ipod. Fit for today's close call. In space all things are fragile..about 1 hour ago from web

chagota @physicsdavid agree with 2/2 100%. Also, flooded as we r w/news, critical attitude / discerning reader even more important than before.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to physicsdavid

cosmos4u Scroll down deep on http://bit.ly/8KhpG: a seemingly similar let's-better-go-to-the-Soyuz-now incident last year, tracked down by @b0yle.about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u @physicsdavid Science writers like @b0yle try to do this as we speak, err, twitter - he looks into how frequent incidents like today's are.about 2 hours ago from web in reply to physicsdavid

Reuters_Science Debris briefly forces astronauts from space station http://r.reuters.com/van82cabout 2 hours ago from Reuters.com

b0yle Refuge was taken on Nov. 17, 2008 ...http://tinyurl.com/cbalryabout 2 hours ago from web

Reuters_Science Russia says space station crew out of dangerhttp://r.reuters.com/san82cabout 2 hours ago from Reuters.com

dbt21 RT @UstreamTV: Live mission audio from the ISS. All clear given as danger has passed. http://www.ustream.tv/chann...about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

b0yle "Pizza box" is 25km by 25km by +- 0.75 km in z direction. Taking refuge in Soyuz has happened at least once before, but details TK.about 2 hours ago from web

dbt21 They think it may have been a PAM (Payload Assit Module)about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

physicsdavid @b0yle @Disco_Dave Too many news stories have only the info but taking up so much space. Bring on the added value a journo can provide. 2/2about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to b0yle

b0yle NASA calls the imaginary box around the space station that occasions an alarm the "pizza box." It's several km wide, but varies.about 2 hours ago from web

physicsdavid @b0yle @Disco_Dave From twitter I feel like I got all the info. Now will conventional "news" go beyond the info to analysis and context? 1/2about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to b0yle

b0yle NASA still checking on how many times this has been done in the past. I've been told three versions, but definitely has been done b4.about 2 hours ago from web

dbt21 Appearently astronauts boarded Soyuz ship for evacuation. All clear now.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

dbt21 Orbital debris almost hit ISS. All clear has been given. Astronauts out of danger.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

dbt21 RT @UstreamTV: Debris has passed all clear given. Live audio from the ISS emergency evacuationhttp://www.ustream.tv/chann...about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Disco_Dave @physicsdavid Great question for @b0yle! Union of Concerned Scientists, has this to say about space #debris:http://tinyurl.com/c2cojdabout 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to physicsdavid

b0yle @physicsdavid Blog item at http://www.cosmiclog.comabout 2 hours ago from web

b0yle @cosmos4u NASA JSC is tracking down how many times the refuge maneuver has been run. Right now the guess is eight times.about 2 hours ago from web

anneminard Astronauts got evacuation practice today when old satellite debris threatened hit to ISS. National Geographic News will have details soon!about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u A NASA source said the debris in question was listed as "PAM-D" debris, implying it was a spent payload assist module:http://bit.ly/ijOUf.about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Debris was a Payload Assist Module, a solid rocket upper stage used to boost satellites to high orbits.http://tinyurl.com/cv55q3 Yikes.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

physicsdavid @b0yle Has the ISS near-impact story nearly run its cycle? Will there be anything extra of value to add beyond the twitterstream?about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to b0yle

cosmos4u @b0yle How often did the ISS crew have to go into the Soyuz as a precautionary move in the past 10 years? Would have been news any time.about 2 hours ago from web in reply to b0yle

Nancy_A Guess things are back to normal, Sandy Magnus is now going to go running!about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u "We were wondering how close we were," an ISS crew member has just asked Houston: He would be - voice higher - "very interested." You bet!about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Astronauts asking how close the debris came. They looked out Soyuz windows but didn't see it. Not surprised; closing speed was many km/sec.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

b0yle Twitter appears to have accelerated news cycle on something that has in the past been not that big of a deal.about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Fincke: "we would like to know how close things came, we kept our eyes on the lookout, but didn't see anything"about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A All hatches have een re-opened. "Big picture is done," says Fincke. ISS Events from today are now being rescheduledabout 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer All hatches are now open, and the ISS is back online.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer Many thanks to @Nancy_A for being the first one on this! Anyone following me may want to add her too. :)about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Disco_Dave As @alexismadrigal said, @Nancy_A was on this Space Station debris danger early. Thanks for the updates! Her post: http://twurl.nl/wli5w6about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

cosmos4u RT @cahuich_hypatia ok..back to what we were doing before this [...] event / RT @FlorianBoyd ISS debris danger over! Back to the desert.about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Wow. Well, that was a little intense....about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u Reaction on German Twitter feeds: RT @DLR_de Das Objekt hat die ISS passiert. [...] #Puhh / RT @astrodicticum hu... die ISS hats ├╝berlebt.about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Danger of debris hit is now passed. Crew returning to station, following procedures to reopen all the hatches.about 2 hours ago from web

Exoplanetology Phew! Dang debris! Astronauts, please take care.about 2 hours ago from twhirl

scifri whew. very glad the debris missed the ISS. crew is now asking controllers on the procedure to re-enter ISS from Soyuz cabin.about 2 hours ago from web

betsymason Space Station survives a close call with space debris. Astro/cosmonauts had evacuated into Soyuz capsule. On their way back into ISS now.about 2 hours ago from web

NoisyAstronomer @cosmos4u Thanks from those of us that can't get audio at the moment :-)about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to cosmos4u

TierneyODea RT @BadAstronomer: Astronauts are requesting info from Houston on how to get everything back up to speed (they closed down various hatches).about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer Repeat: danger is over. The debris missed the space station, and astronauts are starting to get things back in order after shutting down.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

cosmos4u And once again, Twitter was the place to be to share the experience of an unsual space event - while listening to the NASA audio, of course.about 2 hours ago from web

TierneyODea I think astronauts are OK. Debris is clear.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer Astronauts are requesting information from Houston on how to get everything back up to speed (they closed down various hatches).about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

NoisyAstronomer ISS danger is over! Phew...about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

bobfinn RT @Nancy_A: FinckeL We understand we are cleared! Yay! (ISS crew apparently safe)about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

alexismadrigal Heard on NASA mission audio that the Space Station astronauts are OK, after a close call with a piece of orbital debris.about 2 hours ago from twhirl

Nancy_A Fincke: Tell us what the steps are to execute the re-ingress to station.about 2 hours ago from web

Disco_Dave Space station avoids collision!!! *whew* Now let's do something about this: http://tinyurl.com/c2cojdabout 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer Looks liek the danger is over, no impact, debris has passed ISS safely.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A FinckeL We understand we are cleared! Yay!about 2 hours ago from web

b0yle All clear on space station debris. Crew is being told they can leave the lifeboat.about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Astronauts are clear!about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

cosmos4u The danger has passed - no impact!about 2 hours ago from web

bobfinn RT @cnnbrk: "ISS crew climb into escape module to wait out passing space debris." This tweet 5 min aft. est. impact. MSM is late.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A Beeps. More Russian chatter.....Fincke speaks!about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u RT @Nancy_A Some people are tracking debris on Google Earth, say it looks like a piece of Iridium satellite.about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Still silence on NASA TV.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Disco_Dave RT @Nancy_A: Waiting, waiting. Crew should all be in Soyuz. 2 minutes to close encounter.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A Anyone else's heart pounding out there?about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u @BadAstronomer I understood the word for "good", but about there my Russian ends ... :-(about 2 hours ago from web in reply to BadAstronomer

BadAstronomer Some Russian ground chatter.about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A Communications now from Moscow a nd Yury. Anyone know Russian?about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Some people are tracking debris on Google Earth, say it looks like a piece of Iridium satellite.about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A No communications from ISS yet.about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Note: we may not hear anything from NASA for a few minutes, so don't panic...
about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

NoisyAstronomer Probability of impact low, but must be cautious! Especially after recent satellite collision... about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer ISS over south Atlantic ocean. RT @spacewriter: @BadAstronomer From the Google Earth track it looks like a piece of Iridium. about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

cosmos4u RT @TaviGreiner NASA to ISS crew just now: "We wish you the best" - sure underscores the reality of the threat. about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Waiting, waiting. Crew should all be in Soyuz. 2 minutes to close encounter. about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer "Conjunction" - closest approach - in 2 minutes, 10:39 Mountain time. about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

b0yle Space station crew taking refuge in Soyuz while centimeter-wide debris flies past about 4 km away in next few minutes, NASA says about 2 hours ago from web

NoisyAstronomer ISS crew moving to Soyuz escape vehicle w/ news of possible imminent debris hit. http://tinyurl.com/bmovl5 @Nancy_A has your updates about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer I don't know what this debris piece is, or how big it is, or the odds of collision. I suspect the odds are low but NASA = cautious. about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

cosmos4u RT @Nancy_A Soyuz won't leave station unless impact actually occurs. Again, probability low, but object is big. about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Astronauts are moving in to the Soyuz escape vehicle now. Hatch is open, and they're discussing whether to closer it or not. about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A Fincke and Magnus are in Soyuz. Waiting for instructions.NASA and Moscow still deciding about closing Soyuz hatch or not. about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u ISS crew just reports that they have "ingressed" the Soyuz and would be ready to depart if need be. Less than 10 minutes til ... what? about 2 hours ago from web

cosmos4u Here "speaks" the ISS her(?)self - RT @ISStation I have my night vision goggles on looking ahead in the night sky but dont see anything. about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Soyuz won't leave station unless impact actually occurs. Again, probability low, but object is big. about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Radio silence now as ISS crew working to close hatches and enter Soyuz. For now, Soyuz hatch to remain open, but can be closed quickly. about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Universe Today link for ISS danger: http://tinyurl.com/bmovl5 about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A Moscow MC recommends leaving hatch to Soyuz open for now, but still discussing options.NASA:closing is posible,Fincke says they'll decide. about 2 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer 18 minutes until astronauts need to get to Soyuz escape vehicle for safety. They won't be actually leaving ISS. about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

BadAstronomer Listen to NASA TV about ISS evacuation: http://tinyurl.com/2paqc CLick "Live Space Station Videos" in menu on right. about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A Russian Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov now conferring with mission control in Moscow about close out procedures. about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A ISS Crew Closing node 2 hatch, will be out of communications for short time. about 2 hours ago from web

Nancy_A http://www.nasa.gov/multime... Link for NASA TV, click on "Live Space Station Video" on RH side under Channels. about 3 hours ago from web

Nancy_AJ PM hatch is getting closed, MPEV is closed. Mike Fincke and Sandy Magnus following procedures and keeping mission control apprised. about 3 hours ago from web

cosmos4u RT @Nancy_A Crew will go into Soyuz from 16:30 to 16:45 GMT, possible debris hit would be at 16:39. about 3 hours ago from web

Disco_Dave RT @Nancy_A: Possible debris hit may force evacuation of ISS. http://tinyurl.com/bmovl5 NASA TV has the latest but only Russian audio now about 3 hours ago from TweetDeck

cosmos4u NASA audio - via http://www.nasa.gov/multime... - is quite interesting: one ISS internal hatch after another being shut. about 3 hours ago from web

BadAstronomer Small but finite chance of debris hit to ISS in the next 45 minutes: http://is.gd/n4jB about 3 hours ago from TweetDeck

Nancy_A NASA communications with station says if object does hit ISS, there would only be a 10 minute reserve time. about 3 hours ago from web

Nancy_A NASA TV audio feed now confirms the crew will be going into the Soyuz in case of debris hit. Probability is low, but object is big. about 3 hours ago from web

Nancy_A Possible debris hit may force evacuation of ISS. http://tinyurl.com/bmovl5 Watching NASA tv now to get the latest,but only Russian audio now about 3 hours ago from web

6 comments:

CCP said...

You make very good points here; also, the value/problem with a twitter stream is that you're limited to those you already follow and may be missing out on others covering it as well. I always wonder who I'm missing out on...

Nancy's first note on this ISS event was preceded (for me) by a user named Rev. Aaron, who posted a link to a NASA watchdog site; where I found the original warning and then started to write a blog entry about the whole thing, crediting both the watchdog site and Nancy Atkinson.

I ended up posting the blog entry but updating it as new info came in.

My feeling is that news sites should be able to do that -- i.e. update on the fly, even using Twitterfeeds if need be, but interestingly enough, CNN (which I checked regularly) didn't have a thing up about it until just a few minutes before the astronauts climbed into the Soyuz, even though the rest of us had been following the story for more than an hour at that point.

I marvel at how we CAN follow such stories as they break (cf the twittering of the Mumbai attacks), but agree that the time for analysis and post-event commentary that is what a lot of us in the science writing biz bring to the table, may get left in the dust.

CCPetersen
TheSpacewriter's Ramblings
www.thespacewriter.com/wp

Anne said...

Funny how you fear a lack of follow-up and analysis, and yet that's exactly what you've done here! This is a great post, and mirrors a lot of what I experienced while watching this story unfold on Twitter, listening to it on the NASA audio, and filing a story in nearly real-time (once impact had been averted) for National Geographic News.
I disagree that value is lost by reporting the facts in an immediate way -- that's one of the pillars of news reporting, to alert the non-media public to breaking news as quickly as possible.
But I did have this odd feeling while sending my story that it was already water under the bridge -- half an hour after the event. Twitter did that!
I just have to remind myself that despite the fact that much of my little corner of the Twitterverse was already abreast of the situation, that doesn't mean the rest of the world was. Most people don't "follow" NASA and every geeky astronomer they can find.
The mainstream papers and Web sites will still provide the world's biggest news to the non-fragmented masses, and it's still our job as reporters to help that happen.

CCP said...

Anne, excellent points. I didn't take it that he feared the lack of followup so much as the lack of more leisurely analysis and deeper stories -- which we all used to be able to do when we were on once-a-day deadlines for newspapers and such.

It may be that we'll see a tribalization of news that my old editors used to worry about... but this time divided by haves and have-nots in terms of the ability to follow in real time some breaking story.

Nancy said...

Thanks for your essay. Having been in the middle of this today, it's interesting to read about it afterward. I'd have to say, though, that the journalists who used Twitter to keep abreast of the incident today all probably wrote about it later on their various news sites and blogs, gathering as many facts as possible, after the dust cleared on the event. Twitter was just an "as it happened" venue, and not much analysis. I hadn't been a part of anything like this before, and I admit, writing about the incident later wasn't as exciting as posting on Twitter in real time. But I have to agree with Anne's comments that the majority of the general public who do find out about today's close call will likely do so on a news website, tonight's news, or tomorrow morning's newspaper. Those of us who "live" online may loose sight of how the rest of the world operates yet -- although I have to believe with the failure of several newspapers things seem to be moving towards online, instant news. But from comments left by readers at Universe Today, I also believe there are lots of readers out there who still want analysis and as much info as they can get -- and that means Twitter will never completely satisfy everyone.

chagota said...

Great post/thought-provoking analysis! As a side-effect of having access to information 24/7 (and its questionable relevancy), have we become more and more bulimic in our expectations for fresh/beaking news? Is Twitter, for instance, increasing this strange competition with journalists in trying to be the first to relay information not yet fully digested? Maybe as we are getting used to an acceleration in the way information circulates -thanks to technology- it makes us less patient with in-depth stories that will come hours later if not days later. Perhaps.But then again,we could see this merely as a vast water-cooler conversation and there still may be some value in such an informal way of communication if we keep a critical eye (for the same reason, you would not want to accept everything for granted because you overheard a conversation somewhere - even if the people sharing the news were highly reliable). Twitter or other instant communication could only be seen as teasers and the rest is up to us, as always.

David said...

I agree with basically everything posted by others on this. Let me continue a couple of points made by others.

@Anne: Yes, I do fear some follow-up and analysis, and I don't count what I wrote here. It was more analysis of the process than of the ISS event. That is the part I am looking for.

For example, the NY Times posted this piece an hour or so after everything was over: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/science/space/13evacuate.html

Will they follow up and say anything more? I think there are many more interesting things to say about this incident, but it's not clear how they will tackle it. The piece they have so far has no more information than the twitter stream did.

Now, that piece will be of great use to many people, as I stated, but a key part of this is that FOR SOME PEOPLE, the value of that traditional news reporting has disappeared. As more and more people get information in other ways, this will become a bigger issue, I believe.

@Nancy: I am certainly not claiming that twitter provides the whole story. But it has provided as much of a story as exists for some hours after the event. I hope that other outlets will provide deeper analysis. I don't want to get all my information from twitter or other rapid-fire services. I want humans to take the time to reflect, analyze, synthesize.

What I fear is, in fact, that this rapid fire content becomes the whole story. And given that mechanisms like twitter exist, if conventional outlets don't add any more value, then their relevance will decrease over time, at a time when conventional outlets are already having a hard time proving their relevance.

I think this case illustrates the need for good in-depth reporting. We can show that a lot of information can come out very easily, but it's not everything.

I particularly don't want to imply that what you were doing wasn't good reporting. It was the key to all of this information, I would say. But I suspect that even you would agree that what you were able to get out while it happened were just the facts, because you didn't have time to build the incident into a much bigger world. On the spot, it is next to impossible to provide all the context and connections that a human can really provide.

What happens when we have services that automatically track all information on the web to do with the ISS and that feed not only automatically pulls information from many sources including the public audio feeds from the mission (and turns it into searchable text, etc.) but sorts it in useful ways, all done without human interaction. This seems feasible. Wolfram is claiming his upcoming project will start to do some of this kind of work.

When the collection of facts is automatic, where do reporters have a role? I strongly believe there is one and that is in the contextualization and synthesis of ideas.

But will pressures of online news, as it exists now, mean that collecting facts is all online reporting comes? How do we escape that competitive pressure to be first, and replace it with a competitive pressure to be best.

I think this example illustrates that is something that news organizations might want to look toward to prove their value.

In the future, collecting the facts will not be enough.