On August 6 around 2 a.m. local time, a NATO helicopter carrying U.S. Special Forces troops crashed in eastern Afghanistan.
The Washington Post had a reporter in person and on the story – but it took a long time for anyone to notice on its social media channels.
A student from my summer social media class at Georgetown University, Katie Bridges, made the following Storify about what happened for a class assignment. I wanted to highlight it here as a lesson, of sorts, to see how social media is still being figured out at news orgs of all sizes.
What should we learn from this? For one, that someone should always be assigned to watching the Twitter feeds of staff reporters (even on weekends). Since that isn’t always possible, at the very least there should be a behind-the-scenes communication in place to make sure the work of reporters on the ground is highlighted and re-tweeted for a larger audience in situations like this.
All of that is most likely in place at the Post and it just failed in this case (hey, it happens). WaPo is a big publication with a lot of reporters and a sizable social media staff – and it can sometimes be a comfort to know that even the big guys are still figuring out social media in their news flow.
While I won’t delve into the newsworthiness of this effort (that’s a whole other Pandora’s box), I wonder why it had to take a village to carry it out. In the hours and hours everyone invested into this effort — what was missed?
Why couldn’t the nation’s largest news sources put aside their shared need to own information and just combine their efforts to quickly get these documents online in searchable form? Hey, stop laughing. I’m serious.
Think about it. When the documents dropped, one effort could have been taken to scan and text-translate these emails. There would have been one upload to a site like DocumentCloud, thus preventing the major backlog on that site Friday as we all tried uploading to the same place.
Instead of driving readers to several similar-but-different document displays, the heavy-hitters could have built a single site (off all our brand servers). This hypothetical .org could have an embeddable search functionality and open API that could be displayed on all news sites, from the Austin American Statesman to the Zanesville Times Recorder – and on several platforms.
It wouldn’t eliminate competition – it would just drive news organizations to compete smarter in a way that uses less resources. We could compete over crowdsourcing efforts, i.e. who built the best app on top of the API for readers to submit findings; who built the best contributor network; who had the best resources on the back end taking in the tips, etc. We would also be competing on how quickly and intelligently we analyzed these found facts – and how we displayed them on our sites.
Think of the time that could have been saved had we split up the labor. Think of how much faster we coud have gotten to the actual journalism – and then moved on to the next story.
In an age where we’re all doing more with less, why can’t we come together over the simplest of agreements to aid the effort of newsgathering as a whole? Why couldn’t it work?
Note: I’d be happy to start the beer summit for the top editors of news orgs to hash this out for future efforts. Seriously.