How One Man on a Ferry Changed Twitter and Breaking News

360_us_air_crash_0115How would you like to be called “the most famous citizen journalist of modern times?”

The man who changed the way news is reported—and propelled Twitter to the front line of breaking news—is Janis Krums (pronounced Yanis Krooms).

He had a first-hand look at the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

On January 15, 2009, the world was captivated by U.S. Airways Flight 1549.

The plane, piloted by Captain Chesley Sullenberger, had left New York when it hit a flock of birds. Capt. Sully and his co-pilot were able to safely bring the plane down on the frigid Hudson River. Passengers were seen huddling on the wings of the aircraft awaiting rescue. All 155 people onboard survived.

I’ve interviewed Krums a few times about his role in the moments and months that followed. As a former news director and reporter in New Jersey and New York, I am especially grateful for Krums’ insights.

Krums told me he was on a ferry between New York and New Jersey when the plane went down. He had a cell phone, but remember, this is six years ago. Technology wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. This was long before selfies and Snapchat.

Here are excerpts from our interview:

SY: When you first saw the plane in the Hudson River, what went through your mind?

JK: We were all in disbelief, and then I noticed the other passengers taking pictures with their cell phones. I figured I should, too. So I started to snap a few pictures. It’s not my picture that changed the perception and use of social media and citizen journalism; it’s the fact that I knew how to use my technology and share the photo on Twitter.

SY: You were at the right place, at the right time, with the right knowledge and tools.

JK: At that moment, I saw the value in what it was, but I didn’t see the value of what it could become. I don’t think anyone could see that it could be spread around the world the way it was.

Once something is happening, it’s too late to be learning the technology. I had the tools to spread the message and knew how to use them. If you have the ability to spread the message, you have the power.

SY: So you had no inkling of the magnitude or role in which you would play in the way Twitter now seems to break much of the news that happens worldwide?

JK: I had a very modest following on Twitter of less than 300 people. I thought there was a public forum, and I should Tweet the picture because it could be valuable. At that time, Twitter wasn’t very mainstream, so I didn’t see how big it could become. I didn’t send the picture to CNN or Fox. I just sent it to the followers I had on Twitter. And from there it spread. I don’t think newspapers, journalists and news organizations were using Twitter as a source quite yet. It was pretty new.

SY: You became the news crew, the first on the scene.

JK: Traditional journalists will always be second on the scene from now on, especially in the developed world. That’s because more people have smartphones and video capability.

The younger generation is consuming news not through Television or newspapers, but through the Internet. People now interact with their news. You can get into an online community and start talking about a topic. It makes it special for people once they figure out how to use it. The new generation wants to share and have their opinions out there. If a reporter misses something in a story, a commentator can say, “Hey, you missed this”, or “add that”, and it becomes a living story. Before, it was, “This is how it is and you don’t get a change until an update later on.” Now it becomes a living story and not static.

On January 15, 2009, every person in the world was given a press pass.

With that, we each have enormous power, and an even greater responsibility to get it right.

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