Rory Cellan-Jones

Twitter and a classic picture

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 16 Jan 09, 08:08 GMT

At an internal BBC event yesterday, I described Twitter to a group of colleagues, most of whom had never used the micro-blogging service.

"It's like a very fast, but not entirely reliable news agency," I said, and got a cheap laugh by naming a genuine news agency which has that reputation.

rory_jobs203.jpgNow, twice within 24 hours, I have received first news of a breaking story by looking at my Twitter feed.

On Wednesday evening, I was travelling home from a night out, glanced at my phone and saw one of the people I follow on Twitter talking about Apple's new statement on Steve Jobs' health. That meant I could get straight to work on filing a radio piece.

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Then on Thursday evening at around 2145, I was staring at my laptop, idly checked Twitter, and saw someone saying that it was amazing that a plane could land on water and that everyone would survive. So on went the BBC News Channel, and the most extraordinary news pictures for some time appeared.

jkrums203.jpgBut one of the very first pictures to be posted from the scene was obtained by a Twitterer from Sarasota, Florida, Janis Krums, who was on a ferry and took a snap on his phone and immediately posted it on Twitpic. Twitpic is a site which is helping in the transformation of Twitter from a pared-down messaging tool into a multimedia service - and a great platform for citizen journalism.

Last time I looked, more than 97,000 people had viewed the picture. He has since been interviewed by a number of media organisations and says in a recent tweet: "[t]he last few hours have been intense." I bet.

We've talked a few times here about events which have tested Twitter's worth as a news source - from the China earthquake to the attacks in Mumbai.

We've also discussed the tricky issue of what checks journalists should make when scooping up what's on Twitter for broadcast - we know, for instance, that some of what came out of Mumbai turned out to be inaccurate (see "Twitter - the Mumbai myths").

But Mr Krums' picture, taken on the rather low-quality camera on an iPhone, already looks to be a classic of the new age of citizen journalism. So maybe my cheap crack about its reliability as a news agency was a little wide of the mark.

Update: Janis Krums, the Twitterer who took a picture of the Airbus from a ferry which came to its aid, explains how it went round the world.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant article. Incidentally was directed to this by Rory on Twitter @ruskin147 who 'tweeted' about it.

    This will go some way to -

    1) Help Twitter reach the tipping point (if it’s not happened already to an extent)

    2) Show it's value to the majority out there that don't 'get' it

    3) Along with answering what is sometimes the hardest question to answer. Why Twitter?


  • Comment number 2.

    Great minds Rory, I blogged about the same thing last night:

    Did you see that this Flickr user had pics uploaded before the ferries even got there!

  • Comment number 3.

    I also have found trouble convincing friends of Twitter invaluable service and remarkable ways it is being used (especially for proving the necessity of information provided by UGC).
    Apparently everyone goes through a stage of disbelief and denial when first introduced to the service.

    How long before Twitter becomes as popular and widely used in the UK as in the US - allowing more stories, which might otherwise be left uncovered, brought to light?

  • Comment number 4.

    Additionally all the info about the captain of the plane came from 'LinkedIn' the job/career networking site. It being used by CNN in under 2 hours after the crash.

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes, people keep telling me about how good Twitter is, but when I joined none of my contacts were members!! It's a bit sad just talking to yourself. :-(

  • Comment number 6.

    A plane crash has little ambiguity, it either happened or it didn't. A photograph is hard evidence (but don’t forget the scope for a well aimed hoax or black propaganda, particularly in a war situation), the Mumbai reports had no such supporting evidence, it was just hearsay and the 'six dead' turned out to be a chimera.
    I'm sure the plane crash image would have attracted great attention (and replication) if sent to and posted on any media site.
    The plane crash should have been relatively easy to fact check that it had happened, the Mumbai story was more difficult, it took hours to determine that the initial reports were untrue.
    I still prefer accuracy over speed on media sites; if in doubt then leave it out.

  • Comment number 7.

    Here we go again, isn't Twitter just wonderful. Yawn.

    Why don't you and Twitter just go and get a room?

  • Comment number 8.

    Since those in the “media” are NOT doing their jobs of reporting the “news” and information of the day, the “people” have filled the void.

    Mega corporations cannot “own” information, and they cannot censor or just plain NOT report an event that is too inconvenient to the presiding government.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid. Democracy is on its way.


    Alive and well in America. For now.

  • Comment number 9.

    litmanlive - it's not that the majority 'out here' don't get it, it's that we're not interested. Don't assume some sort of superiority over those who don't share your interests.

  • Comment number 10.

    Well said Tengsted!

  • Comment number 11.

    hrwaldram - I have to say I'm going through a stage of disbelief and denial about how people like you can get so worked up about something so trivial. The phrase 'get a life' comes to mind.

  • Comment number 12.

    @DrBlockbuster schays ... aye, aye Rory tis true what you said >>> "It's like a very fast, but not entirely reliable news agency,"

    I did watch your video on a sea-plane testing the internet link recently fr'instance and I know you had two hard boiled eggs for breakfast the other day, two minutes on boil :hahaha:

    Seriously, Twitter is a great addition to the armoury, but I do think of it more as an additional instrument in the socialmedia orchestra ... sometimes it might be better to play the Twitter trumpet as opposed to the Plaxo piano or Facebook flute :wink:

    Of course, you'll have heard that BurgerKing are offering a whoppa if you give up 10 friends on Facebook. Despite me being an advertiser with them, they seem happy to p### off many of the 150 million users. I was wondering if you could approach BK for me and claim 30 whoppas in respect of the 300 I lost on the last fall out? (french fries not included)

    Dr Blockbuster
    Networks & Forums

  • Comment number 13.

    Some of us have better things to do with our time (and money) than constantly check our phones for numerous updates.

    If someone wants to post a picture to the www from their phone, there are numerous ways to do it.

    I was an early adopter of Twitter and the novelty very soon wore off. It's about as interesting as throwing sheep on Facebook, if that.

  • Comment number 14.

    Ah, the fortnightly Twitter love-in, wonderful. Who at the BBC has thrown venture capital at Twitter then?

    To answer the question
    "How long before Twitter becomes as popular and widely used in the UK as in the US - allowing more stories, which might otherwise be left uncovered, brought to light?"...'s never going to happen. Twitter has no business model and the money will dry up soon enough. It's a shame that journalism and news wire standards have dropped so low that so-called "technology journalists" consider it newsworthy to write about how they rely on the public to tell THEM the news.

  • Comment number 15.

    This makes me absolutely HOOT with laughter (apart from asking 'how much are Twitter paying the BBC?). I realise that the Internet has now passed a tipping point of self-referential absurdity. I have used the Internet enthusiastically for news and basic communication since it was invented yet I have looked at Twitter several times and am completely unable to answer the question 'what's it FOR?'

    You only have to look at its promotional video to see how divorced from reality its creators must be' 'Real life happens between blogs and e-mails'. I'm sorry - real life happens WITHOUT blogs and e-mails. 'Carla's friends have discovered her liking for Van Halen'. Well, that says it all I guess. Both she and her friends need to get a life.

    Twitter lets you answer the question 'what are you doing?' but doesn't seem take into account the fact that nobody else, frankly, gives a monkey's!!!

    I would tweet more of my despair at such absurdity but am off to a meeting of our active and creative Parish Council, half of the members of which don't even have computers.

  • Comment number 16.

    #14 harelip

    methinks that's a tad harsh. I agree that some of the social networks are keeping quiet about difficulties in raising revenues and the verb "monetize" seems to be very much in vogue. I wonder if Friends Reunited are suffering from their decision to ditch the annual fee I, for one, was happy to pay.

    The advance of networking with sites like Twitter ALLOWS information to be distributed that more rapidly and greatly assists journalists like Rory to research and investigate and get the story out to the public.

    Breaking a story, doing a tip off, making an announcement are all news sources that can have the blue touchpaper lit via Twitter, Facebook, etc. etc

    I worry more over the business models and their revenue generating problems (not issues!) but Dr Blockbuster always has the business brain on! :smiles:

  • Comment number 17.

    On a more local scale, there was a blackout in part of Toronto overnight; local TV station CITY-TV was using twitter to follow people's stories and track where power was coming back on.

  • Comment number 18.

    I like twitter's search, as a way to see what people think above any particular topic - adhoc reviews as it were, but I don't honestly know quite how I'd use it. Nor do I entirely understand how it all works - and I'm a very technical person! The site doesn't do a good job of explaining these things. Sure, it lets you post a piece of text, but anything more isn't terribly clear.

    It's never going to be as popular as Facebook etc, because it's just a bit too geeky!

  • Comment number 19.

    I hope Janis got paid for his pic.

    It must be great for the BBC and all the poor old credit-crunched media souls to get content for free.

    If Janis had phoned a news agency he could now be raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    But no, he posted it for any one to use free of charge on the web.

    Hope he realises how much money he's given away.

    Citizen journalism - bringing free content to organisations well prepared to pay top dollar - you couldn't make it up!

  • Comment number 20.

    Yeah, and you can do 9/10th of this on Facebook. The only thing you can't do is follow people who aren't your friends.

    There isn't room for both in the long term. Twitter will go the way of the Betamax. It will get eaten up by trendy PR halfwits greedily hogging everyone's feeds.

  • Comment number 21.

    dear oh dear. every big story and the BBC uses it to promote twitter. it's not like there are other services available that do the same! where is the impartiality BBC?

  • Comment number 22.

    Those guys at just flight got it wrong - the hudson aircraft has cfm engines, not iae! (not that I'm nit picking) Also, he had no flaps down, and was going way too fast. He was no sullenburger, that's for sure.

    Also flying 1000 ft above a bridge is hardly "perilously close" and the apparant near miss with the other aircraft..... yeah, aircraft fly in 3d space. they were probably 1000 ft apart vertically.

  • Comment number 23.

    does anyone know if he got any payment?

    i work in a school where i am trying to get kids to understand that taking photos from the internet without permission is plagiarism

    do you give up your intellectual property rights when posting to twitter - i have never used it - seemed a bit shallow to me -facebook at least has useful apps

    is this like the guy who took the famous che photo?

  • Comment number 24.

    The media can't be everywhere all of the time and sometimes the public beat the media to a story or an event - only last week I had my picture posted on the BBC when the snow fell.

    I'm all for it. With the ability to record video and photos on smartphones, the public can rapidly contribute some stunning images and videos for distribution worldwide by the media. The concorde crash comes to mind for example.

  • Comment number 25.

    Twitter is just one source of data which CAN be turned into NEWS by a well trained journalist journalist/ news team. But a tweet is just a source. The issue is how to use it. To be presented as valid (note I avoid true.. I never believe what I read in the papers :-) ) it requires conformation or at least experienced judgment about its likely validity with appropriate warnings ( like 'we are getting information' which is unconfirmed at the moment). Presenting immediate RAW data is ok for the public to use so long as it is so labelled and signed.
    One interesting example of how to do this... for a specialist audience true (but it is openly available.. you have to pay but there is a free trial offer)... is the LIVE COMMENTARY on the Stock Market in the Financial Times 'Alphaville' section each working day from 1100 to 1200. It is accompanied by a stream of contributions by readers which is monitored.

    So long as readers are not misled or rather urged to use their own judgment, tweets a useful addition to the data flow and conventions can be established for journalists to use them even as Alphaville show in a field beset with regulation (and rumours)

    (the caps are so I can use some emphasis)

  • Comment number 26.

    Why are so many of the posters to this article so obsessed about money??? The guy took a photo and shared it, that he is not greedy is his business.

    As for the twitter "love in" complaints, get a life! Rory happens to use twitter, he cant write an entry saying he saw it elsewhere because he happened to see it on twitter. The subject is being explored in a blog, not a main article therefore a greater latitude of freedom of content is expected. Maybe you think Rory needs to copy the old habit of bbc announcers when after a reference to the radio times "other listings magazines are available" would be heard. After every reference to twit/facebook/flikr etc he should say "other blogs and social websites are available" but we hopefully are old enough to know that already!

    As for the fact that he checked the tweets on his way home, he's a tech journalist, I expect him to use tech, and I expect him to check the latest happenings in the world, else I would wonder what he was doing in the BBC. I would be more worked up if the first he heard of it was seeing the front cover of a newspaper the next day, cause that would suggest he was out of touch and only seeing old news, which lets face it by the time it is printed isnt "new"s at all.

  • Comment number 27.

    I think it was Clay Shirky who said something along the lines of 'technology only becomes useful when it becomes boring'

    Twitter is *almost* there now.

    It's becoming more mainstream everyday and with this mainstream acceptance comes it's true usefulness.

  • Comment number 28.

    "naming a genuine news agency which has that reputation": and which one might that be?

  • Comment number 29.

    I thought that news reporting was meant to be accurate.

    I expected the BBC to be unbias and accurate in it;s reporting. The articles I have seen on this website about the downed plane on the 6 o clock news are not accurate.

    The plane is not moored in Manhattan it is in HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY. The reporters were not in New York they were standing in Hoboken.

    Get it right BBC. They are different cities in separate states. Stop being sensationalist and report accurately. It is Hoboken not New York!!!

  • Comment number 30.

    *Twitter will go the way of the Betamax*

    What pioneer a new technology and last 25 years?

  • Comment number 31.

    The real question is whether we actually need any of that speed. When I told a friend a while back that I check the news at least every hour or so, he asked 'why?'

    It's a question I never asked myself, but he's actually right to ask it, since I have no need to clutter up my life with a constant stream of news that doesn't directly affect me.

    No you combine speed with the potential of inaccuracy and you have just more clutter and distraction.

  • Comment number 32.

    I joined Twitter few weeks ago to follow the Gaza war. It made the whole thing feel much closer and more real - can't fully articulate why at the moment. There was certainly a lot of polemic and propaganda, but also it fed me links to sites I would never have seen otherwise.
    As for those who still say 'why?' the answer can only be 'because'.
    Finding out so quickly that the plane came down might not make much difference to most of us in the UK, but come the day of a major disaster nearby, the advance warning could be a lifesaver.

  • Comment number 33.

    No surprise the economy is going down hill, when "everybody" keeps reporting and reading cr*p on their social networks... including twitter.

    It seems to me that now we now absolutely everything about nothing and the real life is getting us by. Let's close down our computers and mobiles and let's do something more meaningful. With that I'm pressing the button. off

  • Comment number 34.

    1st Tweets Timeline/Chart ~ US Airways plane crash in Hudson River...

  • Comment number 35.

    "No surprise the economy is going down hill, when "everybody" keeps reporting and reading cr*p on their social networks... including twitter."

    Quick someone tell Robert Peston. It wasn't dangerous amounts of toxic lending done by greedy banks, lending money to mostly Americans who couldn't pay it back, that caused the banking collapse... It was actually the futures market all too busy on Facebook and Twitter.... *sighs*

    Maybe, just maybe some people decide to get a little escapism from the doom and gloom of the BBC's reporting recently. Even Breakfast News is less inviting than my wrists meeting some razor blades.

    Escapism doesn't hurt in the slightest. Its better than living in the real world of the Great Depression II.

    As for those who don't understand Twitter... Its like Facebook status updates, except you only receive the ones you want, and only from actually interesting people, not that girl from school who has 7 kids from 5 dads who you never liked anyway...

  • Comment number 36.

    Thanks for the post on this Rory,
    Social networks is a very interesting phenomena- or rather a very real thing with many possible changes taking place, and how it may change news media. But the change of news media is not the big point, nor is the truth of photographic representation. It is the social access and group forming that is the new and important thing. The access to news will continue (for a while), but social sites will continually emerge (for a while). Shirky in his book "Here comes Everybody", names four aspects of social networks, as sharing, conversation, collaboration, and collective action, and they are all coming out of social life on the Internet. Let's see what other movements the future has for us.

  • Comment number 37.

    Rory, I really can't understand your love for Twitter. Not only is it a pointless and badly-designed website; your promotion seems suspect. One has to question your intentions and true relationship with Twitter. Also, isn't the BBC supposed to be an independent service? Free of advertising? Because that's exactly what this is.

    Anyway. You can't honestly be surprised that the pictures reached the internet before they reached news networks. Whilst there were no reporters in the vicinity - why should there be? - the place was full of civilians. In this day and age, they all have camera phones allowing them to take pictures almost immediately. And what will they do next? Upload them to the internet (on the same device) and publish them.

    The reason the photo got there first was the evolution of modern technology. Twitter hasn't done anything special except give a service for people to upload pictures. I bet there were photos on Facebook, MySpace, Photobucket, Imageshack and all sorts of other places long beforet they appeared on Twitter.

    In a nutshell, you're passing out praise to a website for completely insufficient reasons.

  • Comment number 38.

    No 37. You make my point very well - "The reason the photo got there first was the evolution of modern technology". I'm not promoting Twitter - just fascinated by the way people are using it to connect with each other and the world. Which strikes me as just the sort of subject that a technology correspondent should examine.

    And if you have evidence that photos reached Facebook, MySpace, Photobucket, Imageshack and others before Twitter, I'd like to see it. As far as I can see, Mr Krums picture was uploaded to Twitpic at 1536, just five minutes after the plane landed in the Hudson.

    By the way I should have made clear that Twitpic is a site independent of Twitter, run by just one man, who has struggled to keep it online, such has been the weight of traffic.

  • Comment number 39.

    Another day, another tranche of Twitter drivel on the BBC.

    Not only is the Suspended One back, it looks like he's advertising the BBC love-child on his show.

    Any credibility that the BBC once had, has long left the building.

  • Comment number 40.

    I'm sure you've all heard this one..

    "The twitterings of a wit or was it the witterings of a..."

  • Comment number 41.

    For some years I have had the creeping conviction that personal judgment and self management would become more and more critical as misinformation, information and noise become harder to discern. The idea of describing living as a 'cloud of stuff within which I must learn to survive then thrive' is so well illustrated by this debate.

  • Comment number 42.


    I'm writing my dissertation on the effect that blogging is having on shaping and redefining the role of the journalist.

    Would you care to share your thoughts?


  • Comment number 43.

    Wow! Twitter! Web 2.0! How cool is that! Very cool! I'm growing a goatee and going to Shoredtich now!

    Yes, I'm a 30 year computer veteran being sarcastic about the demise of hard science (including computer science) on and around the BBC. We have this, exhibit A and also Click, a lifestyle and product placement programme, filled with pointless graphics narrated by someone who hates computers.

    There's a pattern here, BBC 2 which was meant for the Open University and culture is now filled with rubbish, so we open BBC3 and BBC4 which are steadily filling with rubbish. Important to spend the money and ask for more, though.

    The BBC was meant to educate and challenge as well as entertain but levels of superficiality, ratings-chasing and self-reference increase by the day. This bigging-up of Twittering is symptomatic of a much larger and more ugly disease.


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