#BVJ – using Twitter to watch local news unfold

On Saturday August 1, 2009 at approximately 6:00pm MST the Big Valley Jamboree, a country music festival in Camrose Alberta, was struck by tragedy when high winds caused the main stage to collapse. One person was killed and up to fifteen were injured. A fierce wind storm passed through Alberta moving from the north-west and headed south causing damage and brought hail and heavy rain in some areas. A small child died in Calgarywhen the high winds sent construction debris flying from the CN Tower.

Here in Red Deer we experienced wind, rain and a power outage. When the power was restored we logged into Twitter via Tweetdeck to catch up on what was happening in the area. One of the first messages we came across was a tweet that the main stage had collapsed at Big Valley Jamboree. We had some family at the festival and were worried that they may have been one of the casualties.#BVJ is a twitter search tag and we followed as tweets came in from the BVJ site and from around the world. Between Twitter, Facebook and online radio – 630CHED.com, an Edmonton radio station, we were able to keep informed of events pretty much as they happened. We heard through Facebook that our folks were okay. They had been texting with another family member who relayed the messages via Facebook.

This was the first time I had used Twitter to follow a news event as it occurred. Between tweets, twitpics and links sent via tweets, we were able to keep informed on the events as they unfolded. Here are the conclusions I came to after three hours of following #BVJ, Facebook, online radio and local television and newspapers:

  • #BVJ was instant and some of the tweets were actually from people on the site – very informative from an eye witness point of view;
  • #BVJ also had some great links to other resources – that’s how we found pictures of the collapse and a link to the local radio station 630CHED.com;
  • 630CHED.com provided a live feed via web so even though we were out of their free-air broadcast range we were able to tune in and listen live to the updates;
  • #BVJ had some spam tweets – get rich quick, amazing health products etc. – not surprising. One follower flamed them for taking advantage of a tragic situation to promote their products. No doubt the spam was generated by a robot program scanning from trends on Twitter and then tweet their pre-written messages. Sad but unavoidable.
  • Local TV had little to nothing on the event. Through #BVJ I heard that CNN was attempting to contact someone to provide info. It wasn’t until later – about 10:30p MST that CTV national news had a segment on the collapse. They featured a phone conversation with Jessie Farrell, one of the performers who was tweeting the events as they happened.
  • The Edmonton Journal online posted the story and updated photos as they came in early in the event.
  • The local Red Deer paper – Red Deer Advocate, which is usually quick to post via Twitter and their online site had nothing within the three hours we followed the event. Maybe they were all gone for the long weekend.
  • #BVJ had tweets, re-tweets and direct messages regarding the event. As to be expected some of the early reports turned out to be inaccurate – for instance “one dead and sixty injured”. If you take this reporting in context it can be valuable but you shouldn’t panic until certain things are confirmed.
  • #BVJ and 630CHED.com were both used to connect people and spread messages such as the call to have folks meet at the Trade Centre building to keep informed of the where abouts of others  and seek medical attention if required.

Twitter and other online social networks and social media services can’t be beat for delivering instant messages describing an event as it happens. The role that a radio station played through broadcast and online shouldn’t be overlooked. Thanks to 630CHED.com for dedicating their air time to this event. It contributed a lot and helped show that some forms of radio are not dead.

Those who deny that online media is valid, current and of value are missing out on a great change. Traditional broadcasters in particular should take a lesson from these types of events and how they are reported. Global news events all originate as local events. Local news reporting sources have great opportunities to inform the local community and the world thanks to the new web.

BTW:Kevin Costner and his band who were scheduled to be the next act up on stage when the tradgey struck is okay but his road manager and a band member were injured.

More BTW: The event has been cancelled for the weekend.

Even more BTW: If Red Deer had a local TV station covering local events – broadcast and web – what would the results have been? This and other events are reasons why we need to start a campaign to bring TV back to Red Deer. Not just a rebroadcast of national network feeds but a team of reporters and journalists on the ground right here in Central Alberta. A combination of traditional broadcast and web based services is the next wave of news reporting. Red Deer is in a perfect position to act on this and build a trend setting new organization. Let’s not blow it!

Dean

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Nova Media

Strategic Online Marketing

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Advanced Systems

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