Boston suffered a shocking terror attack 15 April 2013. Two bombs exploded near Marathon finish.
This was first the notice published by the leading local newspaper, The Boston Globe, in the official Twitter account. This was near 5pm local time.
Twenty minutes later a first photo was published
It appeared soon evident that the explosion was intended, and that the number of human casualties could be serious.
A Twitter live coverage by The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe decided to provide an intensive Twitter live coverage of the dramatic events as a component of their journalistic strategy. This meant that the number of tweets increased profusely since the start of the crisis.
Next figure shows the number of tweets published in @BostonGlobe Twitter account.
In a couple of hours after the bombing, some 150 tweets were published, while publishing policy in normal days was publishing around 40 tweets per day.
This high intensity of publication was sustained in the following days.
The impact of @BostonGlobe Tweets
The Boston Globe took a risky decision.
This higher than usual increase of tweets published, in the midst of a severe, dramatic and emotional crisis could be a continuous chance for mistakes, propelling false rumors, improper disturbing images. In this crisis contact with massive national and international attention, every single mistake could have lasting negative effects in The Boston Globe reputation.
The assumed the risks, They did not commit big mistakes. They got a very rewarding pay-off.
We present now some metrics about the impact reached by the communication channeled through Twitter.
First figure shows the number of retweets received per tweets for each single tweet published between 10 and 19 April 2013.
Of course, number of RT exploded. Two of them broke the 10,000 RT mark. Another two got more than 5,000 RT.
The figure shows that, in comparison with after-bombing, pre bombing tweets impact are almost nothing.
Nest figure presents aggregate results by day.
Before the bombing, median RT per tweet ranged between 3 and 5. After the bombing, it has rocketed to 224 in the attack day. It decreased to a range 40-60 retweets per tweet during the following three days. It has surged again by August 19, in connection with the identification of the two suspects, the shooting around MIT facilities, and the death of one of the suspects. Currently, surviving suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, is on police massive hunt.
We have chosen to measure the impact of the increase of impact of tweets using median RT instead of average RT in order to avoid the bias produced by outstanding retweeted tweets (those over 5’000 tweets). If we considered average values, pre crisis RT per tweets moves between 4-8, while the value jumped to 720 by April 15, and 545 by April 19.
Social media rewards for The Boston Globe
First direct evident reward for taking the risky decision to practice Twitter live coverage has been already presented. @BostonGlobe became probably the leading source of information in Twitter. All their tweets received the massive impact we have shown in terms of RT.
Becoming the reference in Twitter also imply that it was chosen as the primary source for many journalists al over the world. I cannot provide here conclusive evidence of this point (also because this is not the main goal of this post), but I strongly guess that many newspapers took first the new content from @BostonGlobe before jumping eventually into the online edition of the Boston Globe, in order to take the new information as coming from The Globe.
The second and lasting impact of this aggressive social media journalism strategy has been to dramatically strengthen the social media brand power of The Boston Globe.
Below is the caption of @BostonGlobe Twitter landing page. It was captured by 10am CET. It counted at that time with more than 185,000 followers.
We present in the figure below which has been the impact of the crisis for @BostonGlobe in term of followers.
The day before the crisis @BostonGlobe had almost 70,000 followers. They needed years of activity and 16,000 tweets to reach these numbers. Two days after, the figure went up to 157,000 followers.
Next figure shows the number of new followers day by day.
During the five days before the terror attack, @BostonGlobe gained some 100 new followers per day. It got 22,000 during the first hours of the attack. It even sky-rocketed to additional 65,5000 one day after. This means that The Boston Globe got the same amount of new followers in one day that in ALL previous history and activity in Twitter. In the following days: April 17: 9,500; April 18: 1700; April 19: 40,000 (and counting).
Update (April 20 2013)
@BostonGlobe got 220,000 followers by April 19. It has increased to 275,000 by April 20 (and still counting).
Thie means an increase of 290% in just five days.
Twitter Vs Facebook
The Boston Globe has experienced a dramatic increase of social media size of 300% in just 5 days (from 69,000 to 207,000 followers). This is a remarkable score for an already powerful and mature brand in Twitter.
And what about Facebook? Which has been the impact of this crisis in the other key social media channel?
It has also had a huge impact.
Number of fans has increased within the same period from 39,000 to 69,000 fans.
This is again a remarkable score. But this is less than doubling is size. This is a 76% increase.
The Boston Marathon Bombing social media coverage by The Boston Globe has been definetively a Twitter success story. Facebook has played here a secondary role.
We all know that Twitter is the tool for immediacy, news, actuality.
This terrible event is now also telling us that Twitter will probably also be THE tool for social media journalism.
Update (20 April 2013)
Twitter stats: from 69,000 to 275,000. 290% increase.
Facebook stats: from 39,000 to 73,000: 87% increase.
Things that I learned from this crisis. Some considerations.
1. Social media journalism is possible
The Boston Globe showed me that it is possible to cover in real time a dramatic and unforeseable crisis using Twitter as a leading communication channel.
It is not impossible to publish, as @BostonGlobe did, as much as 38 tweets withing the initial 60 minutes of chaos (and another 22 tweets during the following 60 minutes), providing valuable information, interconecting tweets from Bostong Globe journalists tweeting as eye-witnesses.
Even more important for considering true social media, the frantic tweeting activity, was not made at a price of lowering journalism standards: uncontrolled rumours were not sent, avoiding the publication of insensitive disgusting images (so easy to publish, as Globe journalists were just out there).
All this stuff cannot definitively be made by a junior employee acting as reprinter of the news published in the online edition. You need a true and well rounded journalist for running this task (at least, as far as the crisis goes on).
You also need a newspaper management that really understands Twitter timing and play a coordination role without blocking the transmision of new pieces of information. You need to trust on the quality of your team working in the street under stress.
The Boston Globe apparently did all this. If they could, other newspapers do also can.
Social journalism is possible. Social journalism will be an element of journalism tout court.
This also makes me consider that social media will not kill journalism, as events and crisis will require excellent professionals to secure the quality and the credibility of information during crisis.
2. Facebook will not be a key player in social media journalism
I think that, like me, many Twitter users did not feel the necessity to look elsewhere outside Twitter to gain valuable information about the evolution of the crisis.
At the very initial stages of the crisis, only spare new relevant data and facts appear here and there. Core elements can perfectly be written in 140 characters. Then come the photos, and soon later come alse the first Youtube videos. All these elements arrive and are shared first in Twitter than in any single online newspapers.
I didn’t access newspapers for a while, and I saw other Twitter users commenting the same point. In fact, people commented that TV bradcasting life were showing the same video images in a repeated carrussel. In the end, many people went to reference newspapers to gain a global perspective and a more systematic presentation of the facts. On-line newspaers are still needed and useful.
But, in contrast, it is difficult to identify which is the added value that Facebook pages can offer under these crisis circumstances. As for source of life knowledge in de midst of a crisis, Facebook falls in between the role of online newspapers and Twitter social conversation. It does not provide the usefulness of anyone of the two sides.
3. Please, journalist academicians, or associations of journalists: create a directory of trusted Twitter sources in each city
People will realize little by little that ‘awful Twitter as only good for propelling fake photos and rumours’ is a vanishing myth. Everyone has the timeline that she/he deserves, and everyone has que quality of sources and information for following a crisis that she/he wants.
Now it is perfectly possible to choose the contributors you want to read in Twitter by opening ad hoc Twitter lists. It was an easy task in this crisis, just by following @BostonGlobe, because they decided to publish s many tweets as needed for giving a live coverage of the terror attack.
But people don’t know which are the reference newspapers in every corner of the world.
There is an opportunity and a task for concerned experts to create an open directory of trustable and reliable Twitter sources in every city. List include only Twitter users showing a record of serious tweets in quality and in reliability of content. This list would include not only newspapers, but also individual accounts of journalists, university professors, emergency units and all other relevant local sources.
Please, someone, do it. This would improve the quality of the social conversation in Twitter and an easiest development of social media journalism.
4. @BostonGlobe will need to learn how to manage its new social media power
One week ago, @BostonGlobe published tweets for its 68,000 followers, with some 3-5 RT per tweet in average.
Now it has more than trippled its size. Every tweet with relevant information about the marathon bombing has a huge impact in terms of RT.
This engagement euphoria will vanish once the bombing crisis is completely closed. And then the 220,000 followers will be there, as unfollows rate is low in Twitter. This was a short term and long term reward, but it is also a challenge. This requires a lot of smart thinking from journalists and managers at The Boston Globe. How should they take care of new followers?
Preferred new followers are of course Bostonians captured thanks to the crisis. They will probably be happy with the typical local content published in normal time before the crisis. This traditional content will not be of interest of national Twitter new followers. Should @BostonGlobe adapt its Twitter content and become more national oriented newspaper? If Boston Globe don’t adapt its Twitter content structure, new followers will become dormant useless followers.
5. Why not ad hoc born-to-die newspapers Twitter accounts?
In sharp contrast with the continuous flow of information provided by @BostonGlobe, it was disappointing and frustrating to the absence of tweets published by outside Boston based national newspapers. Few was tweeted by New York Times @Nytimes within the first two hours after the Marathon Bombings. Even less afterwards, as other national and international news needed to be tweeted. @Nytimes could not react by incresing sharply the amount of daily tweets. People went to other sources for getting live Twitter coverage.
Nerw Your Times has already a broad family of specific Twitter accounts, and Bombing content was diverrted to @NYTNational account.
New York Times and other leading newspapers can take instead another more aggressive social media journalism strategy, if the newspaper cannot afford to congestion the main Twitter accounts with intensive live coverage: create specific crisis-related Twitter accounts for each major single crisis. This account will ensure interested New York Times Twitter followers to have access to an intensive coverage of a local crisis, without boring with massive posting to other not interested readers. Communication with all followers is made by punctual RT made by @Nytimes in its main Twitter account. The account stop publishing content when the crisis is completely over as source os news and public interests. The account may even be terminated. In between, the newspaper should gain all crisis-related followers to the main account.
All this story may appear somehow strange. My perception is that the competitive advantage of Twitter as preferred channel for live coverage of crisis will impose the increase of differenciation of profile and number of Twitter accounts managed by the newspapers. On the one side you can not disturb your regular Twitter followers by sudden increases of the flow of tweets in response to a local crisis. On the other side, you need to punctually increase tweeting if you want people interested in the evolution of the local crisis follow your social media coverage. We say crisis, but it also refers to any single relevant event in any area (politics, sports).
Boston Boming Terror. A Chronicle by @BostonGlobe
The Boston Marathon Bombing and the suspect manhunt have gained massive media (and social media) attention, nationally adn internationally. Many people are familiar will almost every detail of the terror story.
As people will read this analysis in the future, the memory of the details will fade away. In coherence with the core analysis of this post, we show here how @BostonGoble explained the crisis in Twitter.
Before the attack. A sport and civil celebration day (April 15 before 2 pm)
Initial report of bombings April 15 (2:57-3:30 pm)
Initial reporting of human casualties April 15 3:30 – 5 pm
Aftermath reactions and informations. Call for tips (April 15, after 5 pm)
April 16. The victims.
April 17. Mourning. Investigation progress and confusion.
April 18. Obama visit. Identification and pics of bombing suspects.
April 19. MIT Shooting (early morning). Tamerlan captured and dead
April 19. Suspect 2 manhunt (Jahar). A lock down city.
(initial reports about suspect 1)
April 19. Capturing Jahar (Watertown)
April 19. After the arrest
An analysis of the quality of local news coverage
‘On a wild night of news, a remarkable press performance. While Reddit fails again’, Ryan Chittum, Columbia Journalism Review, April 19 2013
‘As Boston bombing story unfolds, a stellar showing from local TV, Justin Peters’, Columbia Journalism Review, April 19 2013
‘Boston: Descubre las mejores labores periodísticas en medio de la tragedia’, Lucía Calderón, Cuarderno de Estilo, April 19 2013
‘Crisis Lessons from Boston: Trust (sort of), but VERIFY’, Michael Snyder, The MEK Group, April 18 2013
‘It’s Time for Truth on Social Media’, Emily Banks, Mashable, 20 April 2013
‘The media in the Boston blasts’, Felipe Sahagún Blog, 21 April 2013
‘What the Boston bombings taught me about journalism’, Chris Cillizza, The FIX, The Washington Post, 21 April 2013
reddit.com & Boston Marathon: Lessons Learned, Benjamin Morgan, BenjaminMorgan.ca, 30 April 2013
A selection of tweets by @J-tsar, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
I have been told that some of you find here just the link to each tweet, but you do not see the tweet.
So, I have removed the tweets and I have added a new post just showing this annex 2 with the tweets by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev HERE.
A selection of tweets by people connected to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Twitter account
I have been told that some of you find here just the link to each tweet, but you do not see the tweet.
So I have removed this section and added a new post just showing this annex 3 with visible tweets by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends HERE.