Amid historic wildfires, Twitter becomes go-to news source

The author’s Colorado home might be in the path of the blaze, and he’s staying close to his Twitter feed for his updates, not the local news.


There’s nothing like a natural disaster to further drive home the point that social media is the best place for immediate news.

As the Boulder, Colo., neighborhood next to mine was issued a pre-evacuation order on Tuesday night when a one-acre fire quickly spread to 300-acres in the foothills above our home, I turned to Twitter for the latest updates. The hashtag #FlagstaffFire gave me direct access to people who are witnessing the historic blaze’s movement, making decisions, and providing up-to-date photos.

It’s the same for the devastating fire in Colorado Springs (#waldocanyonfire). Both tags were trending, and Twitter’s top images and videos were all from the Colorado wildfires.

Twitter offers a live news feed. While the traditional media—television and newspapers—offer updates following news conferences, Twitter updates come in constantly, and from official sources, too.

We turned off the television early on since broadcast coverage is overly dramatic and reporters sitting in a studio miles away from the fires are prone to speculation. Newspapers are trying to cover the news, but the physical edition is 12 hours behind the fast-moving news, and websites are not updated frequently enough.

My local paper’s website still touted a little-known study that showed our community as being the most creative in the nation, even as thousands of pre-evacuation notices were being issued. Today, a car crash story is featured along with fire coverage, despite all of the top-five most viewed stories being about the fire.

The Colorado Springs newspaper, on the other hand, blew out its site, featuring nearly all fire coverage and even offered its online edition for free.

Still it doesn’t compare to Twitter. In the hour that it took me write this post, there were 75 tweets using the fire’s hastag, which included photos of air tankers making slurry drops, news about 4th of July fireworks being cancelled, the latest on road closures, and news about the Feds taking over command of the fire. My local newspaper’s site was still featuring a fire story updated three hours ago.

But following live tweets is not without its hiccups. On several occasions throughout the day and night, Twitter kicked me out, saying it was “over capacity.” That’s not surprising, given its role as the primary news source.

Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.

He is a contributor to PR Daily, where this story first appeared.

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