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Courtney Lowery: How an explosion showed us the power of Twitter

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, and its focus is the impact of social media on journalism. There are lots of interesting articles, and we'll be highlighting a few here over the next few days. Here's a piece by Courtney Lowery of NewWest.Net writes about how a local disaster illustrated the power of social media. —Josh]

When a building exploded in Bozeman, Montana, last spring, leveling half a block of downtown and throwing debris as far as 200 feet, neither NewWest.Net — a Missoula-based online network covering the Rocky Mountain West — nor any local news organization had a reporter at the scene. But there were plenty of “reporters” there, ready and willing to broadcast via Twitter what was happening.

Within moments of the explosion, Bozeman “tweeps” had posted photos, described in detail the scene, and shared vital emergency information. A few hours later, those on Twitter were offering coverage of the city’s press conference and acting as a larger reporting team than any individual news organization in the community could have mustered.

Michael Becker, a Bozeman-based journalist who organized the explosion tweets into the now locally famous #bozexplode hashtag, wrote this on his blog:

For a long time, people have been talking about the potential of Twitter as a news source. Today, Twitter earned its stripes.

Since that day in Bozeman, Twitter’s ability — and agility — as a tool to gather and distribute breaking news has been exhibited throughout the world, in Iran and China most notably. Here in Montana, this explosion was our “aha” moment in experiencing how social media, Twitter, in particular, opens up new possibilities in journalism.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

                                   
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Joseph Lichterman    Aug. 12, 2014
The site, known for its focus on local government, was financially stable. But as with many indie local news sites, it only worked with a heavy workload for its founders.