Breaking news, Twitter style

May 6, 2008

twitter.pngNews of a possible explosion rippled through the popular online service Twitter on Tuesday, in a preview of what’s to come in the realm of breaking news and citizen journalism. Twitter is a so-called microblogging site that allows users to send and receive short messages.

At about 1:37 pm, software developer Dave Winer asked the Twitterverse: “Explosion in Falls Church, VA?” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Winer is a well-known blogger and podcasting evangelist). A flurry of posts, or “tweets,” followed, as users reported rumbles as far away as Alexandria.

The mainstream media entered the fray at 2:33 pm, with radio station WTOP reporting ground rumblings throughout Northern Virginia, citing a possible earthquake. Officials also told the radio station that the rumblings were part of construction blasts at nearby Ft. Belvoir, which had been scheduled for later in the afternoon as part of a new building for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Twitter users continued to pile on, pointing out data from the Maryland Geological Survey and adding their own commentary. Twitterer DataG wrote: “After the ‘Falls Church explosion’ event that was covered on Twitter, I saw the value in having a Twitter account at-the-ready.”

By 2:56 pm — nearly 90 minutes after Winer’s initial alert — WTOP had the official word from the U.S. Geological Survey: A not-exactly-massive 1.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near Annandale, VA.

The “Falls Church Incident” was earthshaking only in the most literal sense, but it is an interesting proof of concept that news can be broken on Twitter. Reuters is looking at ways to use Twitter in the newsroom, although our feed is currently under renovation.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

You don’t need a feed so much as an intern with a Twitter account and a grasp of how to use some basic tools, not just Google.

Doesn’t anyone seem to care that the earliest reports on Twitter were WRONG? Cripes, does citizen journalism mean accuracy doesn’t matter anymore?

So what now, twitter is like Nostradamus? :) People come on , try to catch any news on twitter for real.

The true power of Twitter

Re: “The earliest Twitter reports were wrong.” As I happened to be observing the first Twitter reports, I can say the *were not* wrong. They were “tweets” by individuals like Patrick Rufinni who posted something to the effect, “I just felt something like an explosion.” Others Twitter users in the area posted similar comments. Dave Winer amplified their “tweets.” This was like a person calling the newspaper and saying, “I just saw something that may or may not be news.” The process of how news is reported is not what is new. The ability of eye-witnesses to provide real-time facets of the story to a broad audience is what is new.

This event was nothing compared to the media attention for Twitter during the Sichuan (China) earthquake. That really woke everybody up to the potentialities of Twitter. Not only Reuters, but also the BBC, VentureBeat and various others are seriously scanning Twitter. Read this blogpost on ReporTwitters (my blog about journalists using Twitter) for more information about who’s doing what, concerns surrounding accuracy etc.  /finally-the-news-media-wake-up-to-twit ter/

Angelique van Engelen

Wow, that’s quite a great story. Twitter will push the “Breaking news” bar further if they keep this up. That was absolutely amazing…

You don’t need a feed so much as an intern with a Twitter account and a grasp of how to use some basic tools, not just Google.

Its good to see that they took this method to monentize Twitter, as I think using ads like facebook does would really ruin the whole ‘clean and easy to use interface that Twitter has to offer’

Optimus Prime Costume

Posted by Luke50 | Report as abusive