How a D.C. Hockey Fan Site Got the Russian Meteorite Story Before the AP

When Russian Machine Never Breaks isn't rocking the red for the Washington Capitals, it keeps a close eye on skaters in places like meteorite-struck Chelyabinsk.

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If you were on Twitter last night your first English-language news of the Russian meteor hit -- the largest to come to Earth since the 1908 Tunguska explosion in Siberia -- likely came from a website with a passel of the most amazing Russian dashboard cam videos and a name guaranteed to raise suspicions about its veracity. That is, of course, unless you are a Caps fan, in which case you know that Russian Machine Never Breaks is a great source of news and information about some of the Washington region's most outsized sports figures on one of its best teams -- and not a site given to elaborately staged pranks and hoaxes.

It was the Russian players who put the Washington Capitals on the map in the National Hockey League, and who've since made the team a surefire bet for D.C. residents who like to cheer for winners. And Caps fans are looking forward to more of them coming to the city, too -- players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, a forward who plays for Traktor Chelyabinsk and was drafted 26th overall by the Washington Capitals in 2010. His arrival in Washington has been much-anticipated and closely followed by the men at Russian Machine, a site that describes itself as "A cheerfully demented Washington Capitals site with a healthy fixation on Alex Ovechkin and his Russian bros."

It was the site's Moscow correspondent -- hey, you can't have a top Caps blog without one -- who broke the news to the D.C. crew.

"Fedor Fedin heard about the explosion (we didn't know the cause) through social media and radio around 11:00 PM ET. He relayed it to us," said Russian Machine editor Peter Hassett of Frederick, Md., in an email.

"I scoured Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube using the Cyrillic version of Chelyabinsk and its nickname 'Chelly'. Fedor translated tweets from the only reliable source we could find (@plushev, host of a news radio program in Moscow).

"I was skeptical at first, but once I saw multiple videos from multiple users showing the same contrails and sonic boom in addition to a Russian-language reporter repeating official news releases and a first-person tweet from a North American goalie known to be playing in the region, I bought the story."

Yes, you heard that right -- a Canadian former Atlanta Thrashers goalie now playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk helped break the news online on Twitter, because that's how media works today. You can read Michael Garnett's whole story of being awakened by the crash here.

"There were also tons of unconfirmed eyewitness reports (e.g. rockets, military planes, toxic zinc leaks), but I left those out because I read Twelve Angry Men and I know how reliable those can be," continued Hassett.

"We published the article a little after 11 PM ET and kept on researching. I was a bit surprised there were no reports on the wire until after midnight actually. There had been by the point a few short, Russian-language government announcements that could have been translated and verified."

The Associated Press tweeted out its breaking news alert, which verified with Russian authorities that a meteorite had hit, at 12:21 a.m. EST Friday.

"It's been our biggest story so far," said Hassett. "It would have been a lot more exciting for us had a whole bunch of people not been hurt."

Hassett posted some traffic figures on his Tumblr Friday showing the, ahem, meteoric traffic spike.

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Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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