A 4.0 earthquake rattled the San Francisco area last night. I was up late, hanging out on Twitter when it happened. I follow many people on Twitter from the San Fran area, so the sudden influx of earthquake-related tweets was at once fascinating and a bit disconcerting.

Fortunately, it was a minor quake and there doesn’t appear to be any reports of injuries or damage. Having lived through many a quake myself (I lived on the Queen Charlotte Islands, where a fault very similar to California’s San Andreas Fault exists), I can definitely relate to the jolt that even a minor quake like this sends through you.

At the time of the quake, I jokingly tweeted “San Fran earthquake on Twitter. You heard it here first, folks! Where is CNN?” Much to my surprise, I received this response from @flourish:

@flourish is Trish Higgins, and she’s a Producer at CNN. It’s the first time I’ve ever asked “Where’s CNN?” and CNN actually answered me!

This past weekend, sitting in a hotel in Indianapolis, I was watching with great interest the coverage of Hurricane Gustav on CNN. Frequently, they would throw to a reporter, sitting at a desk, reading through piles of..you guessed it…Twitter posts, from people in the hurricane zone.

This is it, people. It doesn’t get any more live and on location than those people who are living it at that second. CNN knows this, and is seizing the opportunity in a big way. The immediacy of micro-blogging has great power. You can dispatch all the camera crews in the world, but none of them are going to be able to get the reaction of someone sitting in their chair AS an earthquake happens. Twitter, on the other hand, has the power to do this.

This is the new news gathering. The world is changing before our eyes, in 140 characters or less.