News that a gunman had broken into Discovery Channel offices in Silver Spring, Maryland, and taken hostages first broke not on cable news or online, but via Twitter. Within minutes of the attack, an office worker used Twitpic to post a photo of James Lee dressed in shorts and carrying a rifle through an office courtyard. Later, another person at the scene posted shots of a SWAT team using their armored vehicle for cover, and then another of emergency responders sending in a robot to find bombs. Helpless friends and relatives asked for prayers, and strangers responded. Lee’s strange manifesto was tweeted; twitter users drew attention to the gunman’s YouTube videos and MySpace page. When it comes to raw speed, mainstream reporters can’t compete with Twitter. It now serves as an “early alert system” for newsrooms.
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