So, Twitter breaks news on the capture of Bin Laden?
These days, I mostly hang around with what some might call the “technology, new media or early adopter crowd”. Having spent most of my career in some form of digital or interactive marketing, I pay close attention to trends in technology and each morning as part of my daily routine, I read trade publications which center on marketing, advertising and technology.
Like many of you, I fell asleep on May 1, 2011 having gotten the news that the United States military had killed Osama Bin Laden through a secret raid in Pakistan. I got this news almost simultaneously in two ways: one, a buzz on my Blackberry which contained an alert from the New York Times; two, while watching baseball on TV, the crowd in Philadelphia for the Mets/Phillies game erupted in chants of “USA”, followed by me flipping channels and seeing President Obama address the world with the news.
As the following day progressed, something else happened. “New media” folks began claiming Twitter was responsible for breaking the news. One publication even went so far as to proclaim that Twitter just had its “CNN Moment”, in reference to the network’s coverage of the Gulf War in the early 90′s when they were seemingly broadcasting from everywhere. People who argue that Twitter “broke” the news hang their hat on two things: one, the coffee shop owner in Pakistan who unknowingly tweeted the raid on Bin Laden’s compound while helicopters were flying overhead; two, the tweet from a former Bush chief of staff who announced on Twitter that President Obama would be making an address to the nation and that he was “told by a reputable person that they have killed Osama Bin Laden” followed quickly by “don’t know if it’s true, but let’s pray it is.”
These two events qualify as “breaking the news”? Listen, I’m the biggest proponent for what technology has done for us, and the speed at which information is now allowed to travel around the world. I also understand the utility of Twitter as a communication platform. But let’s not get carried away by calling it a news source that “broke” important news. We’re talking about a coffee shop owner with zero knowledge about why helicopters were flying low overhead and another person saying “I don’t know if it’s true”, and then we’re quick to proclaim that these sources were the true news breakers. I’m sorry, that smells of media sensationalism to me.
I prefer to think of Twitter as helping to spread the news once it was actually confirmed, like this guy. I mean, confirmed by people who know exactly what they are talking about, like, say, the President or a news source that has information which is confirmed and doesn’t leave me guessing. Because even if I found out about the possibility of the death of Bin Laden via Twitter (which didn’t happen), my next move would have been to flip on a news channel.
This is not at all a post to bash Twitter. Like I said, I understand its utility. Plus, I know more and more traditional news sources also use it and use it effectively. I see the interest in Twitter from marketers every day, too.
My only point is to temper what constitutes a real news source and what constitutes a communication platform. In this case, Twitter certainly aided two things: first, the spread of what were then considered rumors about Bin Laden’s death; and second, the rapid dissemination of the news once it was confirmed by top-ranking U.S. officials. The latter is terrific and no one can (or should) argue the value and wonderment of Twitter in that regard. The former, however, does not necessarily make it a news “source” or one which broke the news.