Osama Bin Laden and the New Ecosystem of News
As usual, when big news breaks these days—and the death of Osama bin Laden is definitely big news—plenty of people would like to give the credit to Twitter, using the fact that the news broke there first to make the mainstream press look slow and backward.While many traditional media outlets don't need help to look slow and backward, the truth is that this is no longer about Twitter vs.TV or radio or newspapers (if it ever was).It's about the reality of a new ecosystem of news, one in which the network effects of tools such as Twitter and Facebook play an extremely powerful role. It is one which can actually help the traditional media, if they will let it.
Many were eager to give Twitter credit for the first believable report about bin Laden's death, which came from Keith Urbahn—former chief of staff to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—at 10:24 p.m.Eastern time on Sunday, before neither The New York Times nor CNN had confirmed that this was the news President Barack Obama was expected to release in his scheduled address.However, Urbahn later pointed out that the information he had posted to Twitter came from a well-connected TV news producer. Said Urbahn: "Stories about the 'death of MSM' because of my 'first' tweet are greatly exaggerated."
This is one of the best examples yet of how interconnected Twitter has become with the rest of what we think of as media. Even CNN, which initially refused to report any of the rumors that were flying through the Twittersphere—leading to considerable frustration on the part of many watching—wound up giving credit to social media when it finally confirmed that its sources were reporting bin Laden was dead.In addition to Twitter, some said they first heard about bin Laden's demise through Facebook, which was also awash in status updates about the news.
A Thousand Points of News
Looking at it as an ecosystem instead of as a competition reinforces the point that all these things feed into each other: TV reports are spread through Twitter while news that breaks on Twitter forms a part of TV and newspaper reports that try to summarize what has happened, and so forth. As one person put it on Sunday night: "Twitter breaks news.TV covers it." Leveraging the power of social media can help traditional news outlets find sources—such as the guy who unwittingly tweeted about the Abbottabad attack. Twitter and Facebook-style networks also helps the mainstream media distribute and promote their content, using network effects to their advantage.
At least one blogger said Twitter had experienced its "CNN moment" with the bin Laden news—a reference to how the all-news channel went mainstream during the first Gulf War.But Twitter has had a long series of CNN-style moments in the past couple of years, going back to Flight 1549's landing in the Hudson and followed by such varied disasters as the earthquake in Haiti and uprisings and outright revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.In other words, the fact that Twitter is a news network is, well … not really news.
As my colleague, Stacey, pointed out in a post on Sunday night, the process by which this kind of event filters out through Twitter has become so commonplace that it now proceeds in well-defined stages: the rumors, the news break, the confirmation, and then the jokes and spinoff Twitter accounts (@OsamainHell, for one.) and so on.There's no question that the bin Laden news was big, peaking at more than 4,000 tweets per second during President Obama's speech, but it was not unprecedented.
As I tried to point out during the initial frenzy about social media and the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, it's not really about Twitter or Facebook; it's about the power of the network.The bin Laden news case is yet another sign that the way we consume media has changed and is continuing to change.
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