I'll admit, Twitter is still a joke to most people. You try to explain the appeal of reading a bunch of short outbursts from a bunch of folks you only sort of know and it's difficult.
But in times like this, when people are hungry for any little tidbit of information, the appeal of a medium that gives you little tidbits of information as people learn it becomes self-apparent. The recovery of the couple from Richland Creek was first reported on Twitter. The unpleasantness with the Ghost Ballet, again, first reported on Twitter. Which streets were opened and closed, who had power and who didn't, who needed a nurse to deliver a baby, where people were needed to sandbag, etc. all filtered through Twitter long before the regular media got a hold of it.
No, you can't take everything you read on Twitter as the gospel truth, but as a way to have your finger on the pulse of the community? There's no better tool at the moment.
Let's take a look at the folks who are really shining.
The Nashvillest. Most folks can't watch three news stations at once, read everything at the local papers, and keep track of amusing or relevant tweets. The Nashvillest was already a great website. During the flood? They've become an invaluable community resource on Twitter.
They've pointed people to breaking stories. They've confirmed and denied rumors for nervous followers. And they've directed folks where to go for and to help.
They have become the indispensable online one-stop shop during this crisis.
Mike Byrd. He's taking pictures of things that don't look right. He's shooting video of water where it shouldn't be. He's dogging on journalists and politicians to get answers. And he's going to see for himself.
Now that the TV stations have decided that the story is pretty much Pennington Bend, Bellevue, and Downtown, it's crucial to have someone who's not buying into that checking other stuff out.
He calls what he does "hyper-local," but, in times like this, he feels like an everyman scouting behind enemy lines (though in this case, the "enemy" is just a bunch of hydrogen and oxygen atoms configured against us).
Christine Maddela. Of all of the television folks, Maddela seems to really get it. She's sending out messages to her followers during commercial breaks. She's acting on tips or asking questions her followers have asked her. She's joking around. She's just being available.
She benefits from a direct and immediate line to regular Nashvillians and they benefit from a direct and immediate line to her.
As the media is forced to either adapt or die, Maddela's adept use of Twitter gives a hint of what the best impulses of the digital age will look like when married with the strength of traditional media.
I'm not one of those folks who thinks that the internet is going to destroy traditional media. It will adapt. It will be painful, but it will adapt. And when it does, it's going to be the pioneering work of folks like those mentioned above that shape what we'll expect from journalists — and what they'll expect from us.