Was KNBC photographer Kenny Holmes being insensitive—or simply smart—when he used Twitter to reach out to a person who claimed to be one of the riders stuck on a disabled California roller coaster Monday?
Four people were injured when a tree branch fell onto the track of the Ninja, a 2,700 foot ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Shortly after the accident, Holmes used Twitter to find a user named Israel who may have been one of the 22 riders who had to be rescued from the coaster by firefighters. “Stuck upside down on Ninja at Six Flags…scary. The news is here as well” he tweeted.
Holmes reached out with his own tweet:
@diskiddooo_ hey man glad you’re ok. I’m with NBC LA. Do you have pics?
— Kenny Holmes (@KHOLMESlive) July 8, 2014
That tweet was quickly pounced on as an example of uncaring media interested only in getting those exclusive photos, with one person sending a mocking tweet, “Stay classy @NBCLA @KHOLMESlive. “You haven’t been rescued yet, might fall, but u have pics bro?”
Holmes, who also reached out to relatives of potential victims of the coaster accident on Twitter, defended himself, saying he confirmed “Israel” was no longer on the ride, and not in danger of falling—actually, he’d never even been on the ride, but had sent out the “stuck upside down” tweet as a joke.
It’s a part of daily reporting that before social media happened largely out of public view. Bad thing happens, reporters arrive and get to work. And that work almost always involves approaching people—at a time of great stress—and asking questions, including whether or not they have photographs or video.
In 2012, an ABC News producer was vilified for using Twitter to find interview subjects after the Sandy Hook shooting. But it’s a reporting tool with proven results. And reporting is often an ugly craft, as any of us who’ve knocked on a grieving family’s door knows. Should we avoid using Twitter and Facebook simply because sometimes, it might make us look selfish and uncaring?
UPDATE: Holmes has defended his use of Twitter in a comment to TVSpy (full text in comments below): “I’m very sensitive to any issue regarding people and their well-being. If you ask me this approach is the new door knock, and many people have an immediate reaction to tweet what’s happening. Often times those are the same people that want to talk about it on camera.”