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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In the aftermath, the Transportation Security Administration tightened airline security and issued a now-rescinded security directive on how passengers should be handled.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?



Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

2 thoughts on “Why Social Media Really Matters for Journalists, Bloggers

  1. First, let me say I am firmly against the publication of any document that would compromise national security. That said, this particular document had no such quality. Good grief.

    When I read the initial reports from the two bloggers who were visited by the fed agents my first reaction was: here is terrorism. The way the DHS and TSA responded is frightening. We are raised to think of such heavy-handed responses being the province of dictatorships or mafia.

    Actually, the way the TSA responded to terrorism, as reflected in the document the two bloggers published is even scarier. “Three Stooges Compose Guidelines” came to mind as I read it. And, perhaps that is why they were so gung-ho to sort out the malcontent who leaked the document. I figure someone, somewhere, in a high place in the agency, was humiliated. It was not national security at risk when this document was published to the public eye, it was pricked ego. I mean, even Fox news ran an opinion piece stating TSA deserved to be mocked for this document.

    The TSA deserves our support in providing them with the resources and manpower to effectively work against terrorism. In return, they need to rise to a level of professionalism that at this point is lacking. My hope for the new year is that the TSA gets the leadership it needs, and the wherewithal to the face real issues square on.

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