Verdict Against Ford Worth $131M for SUV Death Reported First (and Best) on Twitter


In 2001, New York Mets prospect Brian Cole was killed when his Ford Explorer flipped on the way home from spring training. Fast-forward to September 2, 2010, when a Mississippi jury awarded $131 million to Cole’s family. Have you heard this story? Probably not, because no media was on hand to report on the verdict, despite the fact that it involved a giant corporation, a sports star, and the plaintiff’s lead attorney, Tab Turner, who “has settled more than $1 billion in rollover cases with Ford over the past two decades.” Adam Penenberg, an editor at Fast Company, has the story: “the rare instance when the most trusted name in news was Twitter.”

Penenberg [disclosure: a former professor of mine] heard news of the verdict minutes after it was announced, via a phone call from the attorney Tab Turner. Penenberg writes:

In 2003 I had published a book, Tragic Indifference, which detailed the whole Ford and Firestone debacle of the late 1990s into 2001. Turner played a major role in the narrative, and Michael Douglas optioned the book with the intent to produce a movie and star as Tab Turner. … When I searched online for articles on the verdict, there were none. The only mention of Ford on The New York Times home page was an advertisement for the Ford Fusion. Nothing on the wires, blogs, or Google News.

Energized by his connection to the case and frustrated by the lack of coverage, Penenberg began unleashing a flurry of tweets regarding the case and its historical context. “I was live tweeting my reporting and analysis simultaneously, using micro blogging as my publisher,” he explains. It started like this:

# Miss. jury awards $131 million in damages to family of Brian Cole, killed in Ford Explorer rollover accident. No news media there.
# I know about Ford verdict because I wrote book about the Ford Explorer/Firestone debacle.
# Amazing in this age of instant media that a jury returns w $131M verdict against a major corporation and no reporter/blogger there.
# The case involved Brian Cole, a top prospect for the NY Mets, killed in 2001 when his Ford Explorer rolled over:

Over two hours later, the mainstream media finally caught up, first with a small report from a local paper, followed by an AP story. Though demands for instant coverage may seem like quibbles, especially considering cuts made in newsrooms worldwide, especially of the local variety in recent years, the story of the Cole verdict simultaneously demonstrates glaring holes in modern media and the role Twitter can play in filling those gaps. Penenberg put it best:

# We live in a world of instant communication, with news orgs battling to be first even by seconds against a competitor. When that happens…
# Editors and reporters high five and cheer because Bloomberg beat Reuters by 2 seconds, or AP was first and Dow Jones 3rd. Biz press = speed.
# Because a verdict of this magnitude could potentially affect Ford’s stock price. Yet where the hell is the business press on this? #fail.

His whole story, complete with many, many more informative tweets, is laid out in detail at Fast Company.