L.A. Riots 20 Years Later: New Twitter Account Revisits Pivotal Moments in Real Time

Where were you 20 years ago this week? For those of us who were in Los Angeles, we might remember tense times as the jury began deliberations in the controversial Rodney King beating trial. On April 29, 1992, shortly after the verdict was read, the city erupted in riots bred from anger and frustration.

Whether you were in L.A. and have your own firsthand memories of the turbulent times, or now call this still-healing city home, the riots of 1992 still resonate in 2012. Those were days long before this thing called Twitter could bear testament to an event. But now a Twitter account run by a local news station is taking us through the paces of this week 20 years ago, Tweet by Tweet in real time, sometimes down to the minute.

The account is @RealTimeLARiots, and it's run by NBC-Los Angeles.

"How would social media help tell the story of Rodney King and the Los Angeles Riots?" asks the news station.

On April 24, 1992, the jury was in its second day of deliberations. So at just after nine o'clock this morning:

The day before, the Los Angeles Police Department gathered to discuss the pending verdict, and to view a message from then-Chief Darryl Gates.

Snippets of Michael Stone's closing arguments for the defense—which, per the account ran a total of six hours—give us, in 2012, a glimpse into moments from inside the courtroom:

A few days later, the LAPD would have fiery chaos on their hands.

We had a few questions for Olsen Ebright at NBC in Los Angeles, who is running the feed.

LAist: What is the curatorial process—how are you locating material and selecting it, and timing it?
Olsen Ebright: First, we went to LexisNexis and printed every article that had the words "Rodney," "riot," "trial" or "police" in it from April and May 1992. Then, we got our highlighters and started reading. The real trick was to find the actual times. We're trying to get down to the minute, but rarely is that included in news coverage. So if we know something happened in the morning, we may decide that the earliest we could tweet it would be at noon. We also watched all the archive video we could find in the newsroom. That filled in a lot of the time gaps and provided us with media to accompany the tweets. We have a giant spreadsheet filled with dates and times. After we assemble the chronology of a specific day, we start composing tweets.

Are the Tweets pre-programmed? (I noticed use of HootSuite, so I'm guessing maybe yes).
The tweets are pre-planned, but only a day or two in advance; so in case something fails, we don't have to re-schedule weeks of tweets. As for Hootsuite, the pre-set times are limited to 5-minute increments, so I'm probably switching to Tweetdeck today. I want more flexibility with the times.

How will you integrate multimedia as the narrative shifts to the riots?
We will be posting photos to twitpic, and linking to media on nbcla.com, in addition to other websites, of course. We're trying to keep the media as accurate as possible — and this may be me "nerding out" — but we can't post a photo for an April 24th tweet if we know the picture was actually taken on April 25th, ya know? So that's been a challenge - in the same we way we're not using the hashtag #LARiots yet, cause technically on this day in 1992, there were no riots. We're trying very hard to preserve the timeline.

What has the experience been like working on this project?
Even though this has been a ton of work (and I do mean "ton"), the response has been very positive and I think that's kept us energized. That energy goes a long way when you're spending an hour trying to find out how long the jury deliberated for on day 4, or the exact time the curfew was enacted.

What do you and the station hope people will get from the experience of seeing the events Tweeted?
We wanted to create a powerful way to remember such an important anniversary in LA's history. Nowadays, when news breaks, people reach for their phones and open Twitter. It's habitual. It's become just another part of the news cycle. So taking an event like the LA Riots and putting it through that filter is an incredible way to tell that story.

Related:
20 Years Later: 28 B&W Photos of 1992 L.A. Riots
How The L.A. Riots Got Written Into TV Plots In Fall 1992