Pop Quiz: AP, CNN Win Earthquake Coverage Race

CNN's Breaking News on LA EarthquakeIn today's online news cycle, a few minutes can make a big difference for competing news sites reporting breaking news. And the best way to empirically compare their speed and agility is to measure their reaction time to a sudden unexpected event, like the magnitude 5.6 earthquake that rattled Southern California yesterday at 11:42 a.m.--something no one could possibly anticipate or scoop.

Among the major national news organizations, The Associated Press led the way, with a brief article posted at 11:50 a.m., eight minutes after the quake struck. CNN picked up the AP story by 11:54 a.m., and Reuters had a somewhat more detailed story at 12:06 p.m.

Reuters also reported that Southern California nuclear plants were fine at 12:13 p.m. At 12:24 p.m., CNN posted its own more comprehensive story on the subject, quoting the CNN bureau chief and journalists, as well as user-generated content from an "iReporter," with additional news from KABC, a CNN affiliate.

So what about the Los Angeles Times--seemingly a natural choice to win the race? The server was down for almost 15 minutes, from 11:42 a.m. to 11:56 a.m. Although reporters may have been scrambling, they missed the first wave of online interest. It wasn't clear Tuesday afternoon whether the paper's server went down because of a power outage, disrupted connections, or simply too many visitors, resulting in denial of service.

In fact, all the news orgs were "pwned," in the parlance of our time, by bloggers. Perez Hilton, the gossip blogger based in LA, posted the news, along with some informational graphics about earthquakes by 11:46 a.m. Then Hilton was shown up by a humble civil service.

The Web site for the United States Geological Service and its partners in the California Integrated Seismic Network automatically posted the location and strength of the quake by 11:45 a.m., about three minutes after it occurred. A full report reviewed by a seismologist was posted by 11:53 a.m. Several Southern Californian natives who had experience with earthquakes said the USGS Web site, quake.usgs.gov, is their first destination after such an event.

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