How Twittering Landed Me A Live Interview With BBC World News

by Jon Thompson on August 12, 2009

It was early April and I was dead asleep in a hotel room on the outskirts of Rome. When I first felt the shaking I didn’t want to believe it could be an earthquake.  I had just arrived from San Francisco and was certain I had left all that behind. I was certain Rome was not prone to earthquakes but I was the next few seconds showed me just how wrong I was.

I was on the seventh floor and so the vibrations we felt were pretty strong. As I lay there in the bed trying to ride out the action I tried to decide if modern Italian architecture was good enough or if I should try and find the staircase. Memories of Indonesian earthquakes and the knowledge that my wife’s not too distant homeland was all but flattened in the 60’s made me think I should at least get out of bed so that I would die standing up. Truthfully, I knew the whole thing end before I ever made it out the door. They always did.

I switched on the television after the swaying had stopped but there was nothing on BBC and CNN. I figured it would take the international outlets a while but even the local Italian stations were blank. I fired up my laptop to see what was online but there was nothing, at least until I got to Twitter.

Sure enough there were a few minutes of Tweets before me but not many.  There were perhaps four our five folks in Italy Twittering the story and throwing hash tags like #Rome and #earthquake.  At the time we had no idea where the epicenter was but it the shaking was so strong we new it couldn’t be too far away. The few of us that were on began banging out Tweets and sure enough that began to find there way through the Twitterland.

It was late afternoon stateside and it seemed like there were a lot of folks sitting in front of their machines right at that moment. Lots of nice messages came back and once their authors picked up the news that was just beginning to come over the wires they became more heartfelt and their numbers grew.

A fellow Twitterer in London picked up on our broadcasts and dropped me a line via email. After a few phone calls with various producers and new people I found myself listening to newsroom background noise as I waited to talk to ‘the desk’. I could see the older gentleman on the television screen talking to someone (I think) from the USGS and then suddenly I found myself watching my name as it scrolled across the screen and the presenters lips move as his voice came through my mobile.

The adrenaline was tapering but there was no way in hell I was going back to bed right away so we had a nice chat about everything that was going on what exactly I could see and hear. There wasn’t much I could tell him besides the fact that I could hear my neighbor scream and a few doors slam. I did praise the BBC for picking on the Twitter stream so quickly and especially their reporter (@nathan_williams) for being the first one to catch it. Not sure they really liked the bit about Twitter but I was on the air before their Rome correspondent if I remember correctly.

I signed off and spent the rest of the night riding out the aftershocks and watching the news bulletins about the tragic losses in l’Aquila. I could tell it was going to be a long day so I forced myself to sleep just before dawn, slept for an hour and the showered and headed downstairs for breakfast. Sure enough the folks at the office spent the morning asking me if I had brought the earthquakes with me from San Francisco.

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