When the recent deadly earthquake struck China, the first news about it broke on Twitter.
Twitter? Okay, so this isn't the news cycle your grandmother experienced, or even what your older brother knew a few years back. Interactive digital technologies are placing the equivalent of the old-time ham radios in the hands of people all over the world -- 1.3 billion by the latest reckoning.
The result is we are becoming a planet of documentarians working in real time. With websites, blogs, social networking sites, IM, widgets, and ever-smaller, more powerful PDAs at our disposal, almost everybody can be a reporter if he or she wants to.
Which brings us back to Twitter. It's a social networking and micro-blogging service that pitches itself as "for friends, family, and coâ€"workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"
"What am I doing? I'm running for my F$%g6Tg life because a monster earthquake just hit!" was probably more or less what that first Twitterer posted in Chinese. Journalists may have managed, with various degrees of success, to adapt to a 24/7 news cycle, but nobody can be everywhere at once.
That's where crowd-sourcing comes in, via new tools like Twitter. Some early-adapter journalists have been building their own networks of sources via Twitter to help them stay abreast of fast-breaking topics.
No doubt, the day's coming when the old saying "you're only as good as your rolodex," could morph into "you're only as good as your Twitter list." Nevertheless, as fascinating as all of these advances may be, none of them will endure unless we figure out how to make money while still doing what we do best -- producing original content.
What's beyond debate is that the user-created content revolution is here to stay. Tapping into the crowd is absolutely necessary to be able to do our jobs. We can't compete with a million users to break news, but we can help guide the results and provide context.
Therefore, the critical business model questions are starting to revolve around how we can monetize the new blend of original content with user content. Advertising will remain a constant, but new types of incentives have to be discovered to attract the crowd to our news party.
Otherwise, we may end up on the outside looking in.