Here's a secret for you: Even the best journalists know just a tiny fraction of what happens in a major airline's operation.
We receive some tips, but we aren't so plugged in that we know about every reservation system failure, celebrity meltdown, emergency landing, diversion, or go-around. So three years ago, when American Airlines started receiving phone calls from journalists about incidents that had just happened, no one from the airline knew why.
"We would have some sort of disruption and we would have 10 media calls within a matter of minutes," American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said. "We couldn't figure out what was going on. We said, 'Where are you getting this from?' The timing was always odd. That's when we realized, this was Dataminr."
Dataminr is a company that uses artificial intelligence to mine Twitter for potentially newsworthy tweets, and alerts journalists and corporations. If a person with 12 followers witnesses a fight on an airplane and uploads video, Dataminr will find it almost immediately.
It's an important tool, but CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave told me he sometimes tires of it. For every important news item it finds — Van Cleave learned about a major 2016 American Airline engine fire in Chicago from a Dataminr alert — it picks up a lot of dribble.
"The thing that is challenging about Dataminr is that it will flag you to things that might be happening," Van Cleave said. "It can get a lot of people spun up when people see this Twitter alert that my plane is on fire, when in reality it is not."
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