April 14 – Hold The Ice

Today’s factismal: David Sarnoff was the one of the first “citizen journalists”.

What happens when a dedicated young worker hears a distress call on the radio? He stays on duty for three days, relaying information to the public, that’s what. When David Sarnoff went to work at the radio station on top of the Wannamaker department store in New York City on April 14, 1912, he had no idea that he’d be making history. But that’s what happened.

The radio room of Titanic's sister ship, the Olympia (Image courtesy "The Year Book of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony")

The radio room of Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympia
(Image courtesy “The Year Book of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony”)

Near the end of a routine shift, David picked up a faint radio signal. Because it was very hard to carry audio signals using radio at that time, the signal wasn’t “in the clear”; instead, it was a series of rapid clicks that a telegraph operator could translate from Morse Code to plain English. You can imagine his excitement as the message came through:”SS Titanic ran into iceberg, sinking fast.”

Ships recovered 333 bodies, most of which were buried in Halifax (My camera)

Ships recovered 333 bodies, most of which were buried in Halifax
(My camera)

David immediately sent a note to his boss and to the New York Times, telling them of the news. As the night wore on, David stayed at his post relaying information about the disaster. He was the first to know that it was the SS Carpathia that had heard the Titanic’s faint SOS and come to the rescue (another ship, the SS California, was close enough to see the distress flares but ignored them). He was the first to know who had been saved and who had been lost. And for three long days, he stayed at his telegraph, relaying the news to the public as soon as it came in. In many ways, he was the prototype for today’s “citizen journalist” – ordinary people who report the news as it happens.

And news continued to happen even after something as incredible as the loss of the “unsinkable” Titanic. In Europe, an arch-duke was assassinated and the continent slid into a bloody war that would involve nearly every country on the globe. Soldiers were rushed across the oceans on liners that were converted to troop ships and hospital ships, including the Titanic’s sisters the Britannic (which was lost to a German mine in 1916) and the Olympic (which would make it through World War I and return to commercial use until 1935).

The USS New Jersey during World War I (Image courtesy US Navy)

The USS New Jersey during World War I
(Image courtesy US Navy)

And many of those soldiers that the ships carried acted as citizen journalists, recording their every day impressions of the war and life in diaries. All told, they wrote more than 1.5 million pages of observations that now need a citizen scientist like you to sort out. At Operation War Diary, you’ll read through their musings and help sort them out so that we can get a better view of how World War I really happened. To learn more, sail on over to:
https://www.operationwardiary.org/

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