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L.A. Quake: How CNN.com Dropped The Ball & How Bloggers Could Pick It Up

Updated on July 29, 2008
 

I watched the live coverage on cnn.com's streaming video of the Chino Hills earthquake and I am aghast at the befuddled incompetence shown by this august news organization that really should have had its act together, but sorrowfully didn't even come close.

The quake struck at 11:42 am Pacific Time. Unbelievably, it was well over half an hour later when they finally got someone on the phone from Anaheim Hills who was actually close enough to the epicenter to be able to report that their home had suffered some structural damage when their garage flexed. What had CNN done for the half hour after the quake? They had aired telephone calls from people in San Diego, San Bernardino, Anaheim, and other places that were at least 20 miles away, with one being over 80 miles away!

This was not an apocalyptic 9+ shaker that devastated the Southland. This was a relatively mediocre 5.8, later re-evaluated as a 5.4 earthquake which is not that overly unusual in Southern California. It would follow that any of the more serious reactions and reports of damage wouldn't be in San Diego, but would be in Diamond Bar, Brea, Yorba Linda and Chino Hills. Why couldn't they get anyone on the phone from those areas for over half an hour?

At 12:15 pm Pacific time, I went to superpages.com and called three businesses completely at random with Chino Hills addresses. Guess what? They all answered the phone. I didn't bug them for quake reports, I was just trying to prove the point that Chino Hills was reachable, even from another country (I'm in Canada.)

What was the problem at CNN.com's multi-zillion dollar shiny CNN Center? Don't they pay their journalists enough to figure out that they can just call up a few people who live in the actual area and get reports from them? The Chino Hills Police is at 14282 Peyton Drive, phone (909) 364-2000. I didn't call them as I didn't want to be a pest, but CNN certainly could have dialed those digits and received a statement directly from the local constabulary as to reports of damage. What were they doing talking to someone from San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in San Bernardino, well over 25 miles away? Can't they just google map San Bernardino County and realize that it is one of the largest counties in square miles in the United States? And what they were doing talking to San Diego Police is completely beyond me. Maybe the folks at CNN can air google maps but they can't read them.

This should serve as a lesson to any web publisher who is even remotely involved in news or current events issues. Just because the gargantuan juggernauts of the news marketplace such as CNN, New York Times, Reuters, etc. spend more on coffee than you will likely earn in your entire lifetime does not mean that you can't kick their derrieres if you pick your spots. These monolithic organizations are incapable of making common sense decisions under the gun. You would think that they should be, but as this quake coverage amply demonstrates, they are not able to get a junior stringer to look up phone numbers in the local epicenter area and start dialing. That's where the great equalizer that is the World Wide Web can be used to your best advantage. If as a blogger you had been strategically positioned to blog quickly and intelligently during this event, you might have gained yourself a reputation that could have begun your ascent to the rarefied stratosphere of blogging. You could have received reports that news watchers want to learn about way ahead of the CNNs of the world that are airing completely irrelevant conversations with bored law enforcement officers two hours drive away.

A good lesson to all web publishers and bloggers: If you are fast, agile, and can think on your feet, you can position yourself as the next Drudge. All it takes is common sense and the ability to implement it.

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