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Why Social Media Really Matters for Journalists, Bloggers

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

In my day job, I cover the aviation industry, and I’m now back on the security beat after a year hiatus.  I’m fortunate, because my job also happens to be my lifelong hobby.  As such, I not only write about the industry, I’m also involved with discussion groups, clubs and very active chats on Twitter.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you know about the alleged attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.

In the aftermath, the Transportation Security Administration tightened airline security and issued a now-rescinded security directive on how passengers should be handled.   Two of my aviation pals — blogger and photojournalist Steven Frischling and travel writer/advocate  and blogger Chris Elliot — had sources that independently gave them copies of the SD, which they both published on their blogs, here and here.

I admit that legally, it’s against the law to release these documents, despite the fact that they go out to thousands of officials at more than 500 airports across the country.  But if I had a dime for every time reporters leaked documents for the greater good, I’d be sitting at my beach house in St. Croix.  Remember the Pentagon Papers?  The SD was picked up by hundreds of media outlets, including mine.

After the SD was published, both Frischling and Elliott received visits from agents of the TSA.   Frischling chose to submit to the subpoena, while Elliott got a lawyer.  They both related their experiences on their blogs and via their Twitter accounts — @flyingwithfish and @elliottdotorg.

The aviation tweeters on Twitter are especially active and far-flung.  A campaign to get the word out about the subpoenas was started by Mary Kirby (@runwaygirl) an editor and blogger at Flight Global, an aviation publication.   From there, the story caught on, with stories across the blogosphere and media outlets including the New York Times, CNN, the BBC and the Economist.

You can read Mary’s story on the #TSAfail campaign here.  If you are STILL sitting on the fence, as a journalist, on whether to include social media tools in your toolbox, this story, which is still getting buzz, shows why you should get off the fence and do it.  No surprise — Frischling and Elliott have legal bills to pay; if you want to make a donation, click here and here.

I’d love to hear your comments on this story.  Where Frischling and Elliott right or wrong to release the SD? Did the TSA handle the situation in the correct way?