Editor's Desk: An experiment in online social networking

I decided to post news updates from this year's Paris Air Show using the microblogging site Twitter, just as an experiment in online social networking. I consider myself fairly tech-savvy, but broadcasting a litany of 140-character "tweets" from my iPhone or laptop hardly seemed like an effective use of my time while I was busy covering the show for the Aviation International News Paris 2009 daily (a BJT sister publication). I seriously doubted anybody really cared what I was doing right now.

At first, using Twitter in Paris seemed a bit like shouting into a forest and hoping somebody was listening. I had no idea whether anyone was reading my Twitter messages or even knew I was posting them. Gradually some of my "followers" began replying to the posts, so at least I knew a handful of people were paying attention. But even so, the exercise seemed pretty pointless.

Then I tweeted something really big and the world woke up.

On the show's second day, a few journalists were invited to the Qatar Airways chalet to interview the airline's CEO, Akbar Al Baker, about an executive charter service forming in the Middle East. But Al Baker was a no-show for almost an hour-an eternity when you're on deadline for a daily publication. When he finally emerged from a backroom meeting, Al Baker glided to our table and sat down. Almost immediately he changed the subject from business jets to the long-delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner program.

"Unfortunately, Boeing is not run by commercially minded people," Al Baker pronounced, his gaze narrowing. "Boeing is run by bean counters and lawyers. We have major issues with them, and if they don't play ball with us, they'll be in for a serious surprise." Citing objections to the way the troubled program was being handled, Al Baker was threatening to cancel the airline's multibillion-dollar order for as many as 60 Boeing 787s. Here was a major news story, deposited in our laps.

I wrote a front-page article for the following morning's edition of Paris 2009 and Twittered a message with a link to the piece. In no time, aerospace blogs and online news sites were picking up the story and posting links back to the article. Messages from followers started popping up on my computer screen. "The tone of the article doesn't bode well for Boeing," wrote one. "First the delays of the 787 and now this," posted another. "Really bad news for Boeing."

Finally, I was starting to understand the power of the tweet. 

In addition to serving as editor of this magazine, I write about avionics and cabin technology for Aviation International News, and cover business aviation at air shows and conventions where we publish daily onsite issues. My thawing reluctance to embrace online tools like Twitter and blogs has more to do with traditionalist ideas about journalism than with any neo-Luddite notions of the world. Too often, I see rumors and under-researched reports materialize on the Web, many of which are regurgitated as fact and posted for all the world to read on sites like Wikipedia. Journalists occasionally fall into the trap of incorporating these enticing morsels into their own work without doubling back to make sure the information is correct. When it's not, they end up looking lazy or foolish or both.

And yet a number of excellent aviation blogs exist, written by vigilant reporters who always try to make certain they've got the facts straight before hitting the publish button. One of my favorites is jetwhine.com from former corporate pilot Rob Mark. His name should sound familiar to BJT readers-besides being a heck of a nice guy, Rob is a contributor to this magazine and the author of "Defending Your Jet," which appeared in the February/March 2009 issue. I'm happy to report that the piece won an Aerospace Journalist of the Year category award in June in Paris ('More Awards for BJT'). This is a well-deserved accolade for the author and for the magazine, but more importantly it shows that our journalist peers who judged the competition agreed that the article hit the mark. My congratulations go out to Rob.

While we continue to expand and improve our online presence at BJTonline.com, we'll also seek to increase our use of Twitter and other sites that can help us better communicate with our readers. I invite you to follow the magazine at twitter.com/BJTonline, and also to check out my updates at twitter.com/AvTwit. I'm not sure that what I tweet will always be worth reading, but I promise not to tell you inane stuff like what I had for dinner.

Unless it was something really good.
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