There were no reporters present in Laurel, Miss. when a jury handed down a $131 million verdict against Ford after an Explorer rolled over, killing a young man who was on track to play baseball for the New York Mets. Hours after the verdict, there was no coverage of a case that involved a high profile victim, a major corporation, and the possibility that more than four million Ford Explorers are dangerously unstable.
Adam Penenberg heard about the verdict immediately from the defense lawyer. Hours later, he was amazed to see there had been no major media coverage at all. So he turned to Twitter.
Firing off more than 50 tweets in two hours, Penenberg related the entire story of the fatal accident, the case and the verdict. The result reads like an entry from Simple English Wikipedia, interspersed with tweets pleading reporters to pick up the story.
"Miss. jury awards $131 million in damages to family of Brian Cole, killed in Ford Explorer rollover accident. No news media there," he wrote. Then, "C'mon reporters. Am I only one who thinks $131 MILLION verdict against FORD in a product liability suit is news??"
Penenberg is a contributing writer for the magazine Fast Company who wrote a book about the dangers of SUVs. He knew about the verdict immediately from the lawyer in the Ford case, but had no venue for breaking the news where people would see it - other than Twitter, where he has more than 2,800 followers.
The story eventually emerged in the major news media. But Penenberg's tweetstream was longer than many of the stories. He even corrected an Associated Press story in a tweet.
Penenberg had an advantage over other reporters covering the case because he has written a book about the subject. A journalist who gets a complex, multi-million dollar unlawful death suit dropped in her lap is going to produce less robust coverage than one who already knows the history and the players.
That combination of better coverage, faster, is the exception rather than the rule. Every media outlet strives for both. But more often than not, the quality of an article is inversely related to the amount of time it took to create.
The Internet has made it possible to break news faster than ever, and Twitter epitomizes this. Typing 140 characters is faster than TV and much faster than blogging - especially if you can do it from your phone.
Penenberg said the experiment taught him how efficient Twitter is for breaking news, and he plans to use it from now on. What do you think - do you like your breaking news live-blogged from Twitter? Or do you think Twitter has potential for dumbing down the news by upping the emphasis on speed over quality?