Safe Landing in the Hudson

Hosted by
This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW. When US Airways flight 1549 landed safely in the almost freezing water of the Hudson River, we got ourselves a new shared hero – and also some fresh insight into how the flow of news works these days. Everyone could relate to those first bulletins and pictures. Who doesn’t think – at some time - about crashing on takeoff. Especially when you depart over water, like we do at LAX. Or take off into insanely crowded skies, like those over L.A. or New York City. Chances are, few of us dare to imagine we would survive this kind of emergency. Losing both engines -- while still climbing out, in a plane’s most vulnerable attitude. Next to an explosion, the worst sound to experience on a jetliner is silence. That’s what the 155 people aboard the Airbus heard yesterday afternoon. A few minutes later, they were boarding boats and joining in the praise for Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger. My wife said at breakfast that from now on, she wants her pilots to come with 40 years of experience – and a background as a glider pilot, if possible. Sully also flew fighters for the Air Force. He runs a consulting firm on aviation safety. He volunteers at food banks, raises dogs for the blind, and walks to raise money for cancer research. After the jet came to a stop in the river and the passengers had filed onto the wings, he walked the length of his plane -- a couple of times -- and made sure everyone was safe. Only then did he abandon ship. That’s impressive personal cool – hero’s cool -- and to my mind makes it all a little demeaning that people rushed to declare the crash landing some kind of… miracle. And maybe it is, for ardent believers in divine intervention. Certainly some of the passengers saw it that way. Then the media picked it up as some kind of fact. Today’s LA Times front page declares the landing A Miracle – not in quotes. The New York Times headline at least attributes the belief. The media’s adoption of the miracle concept prompted a web post today by the Poynter Institute, a journalist training organization. And it’s not the only meta-question to arise from the coverage. Would Sully be hailed so widely as a hero if the emergency had happened at the other end of the flight, in Charlotte, North Carolina? Probably not. There wouldn’t have been a borough full of TV cameras and media types to jump on the story – the New York Times alone credits nearly three dozen staffers. There also would have been many fewer Facebook and Twitter users posting bulletins about the amazing scene unfolding outside their cubicle windows. The most celebrated photo posted online showed the plane resting in the water with passengers huddled at the exits and the New Jersey skyline in the distance. “There’s a plane in the Hudson,” said the Twitter poster, who was on board a ferry. “Crazy,” he tweeted. It was great, raw stuff and whipped across social networks and the Internet. It showed, yet again, how the news cycle has picked up amazing new immediacy through technology. And yet, becoming informed is not a factor of speed so much as of depth. In the end, if all you did was monitor Twitter you were not as informed as people who sought out updates and information from media websites. And from TV. There’s an advantage to gathering information from myriad sources, sifting the good stuff from the weak, and showing the scene in the river evolve from different camera angles. That too should be a lesson for news consumers and the media itself. Twitter may seem new and cool, but some times it takes more 140 characters to tell the story. For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.