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Was May 1 a Traditional Publishing Fail?


Here on the BlogWorld blog, I already wrote a bit about how social media is changing the face of historical moments. I know that a number of people found out about Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter or Facebook, and even though I live in Washington, D.C., I opted to stay in and chat with friends online instead of partying on the streets, like so many chose to do in this and other cities across the United States. I think it’s really interesting to see how people all over the world are still talking about this historical event – and social media makes that possible.

I think there’s a deeper question here for those of us in the publishing industry – was the announcement of bin Laden’s death a fail for traditional media?

Yes. And no. At least, in my opinion.

How Traditional Publishing Failed

Before newspapers or magazines around the world even had time to yell “Stop the presses!” new media sources were deep in the analysis and reporting of this story. I’m a Twitter girl more than I am a Facebook girl, but both exploded with the news, with bloggers everywhere feverishly typing to post on the topic. Some of the interesting things I and other members of the BlogWorld team noticed:

  • Someone posted Osama bin Laden is DEAD as a page on Facebook a long time ago, asserting that the terrorist was never going to be found because he was dead. I’m not sure how popular that page was in the past, but as of right now, it has over 466,000 likes and TONS of comments, pictures, etc.
  • A man who lived in the neighborhood unknowing live tweeted the whole thing. At the time, he had no clue what was going on, but he happened to be awake and on Twitter, so now we have a first-person account of what was happening from someone who was really there.
  • Osama bin Laden’s Wikipedia page was updated before President Obama even spoke. Someone added a death date as May first, then someone else edited it to say that his death “was announced on May 1,” since there were rumors flying around that he had been dead for several days.

These are all things that aren’t possible with traditional print media. With a newspaper or magazine or even a static news website, there’s no feedback, no discussion, no life and movement to the story. Traditional media is not about conversation; it is about presenting the facts…and although those facts are important, without room for conversation, they’re not as attractive of an option to most people.

And then there’s the issue of speed.

This announcement was made on Sunday night, well after many people were actually in bed already. At the BlogWorld HQ, Rick picked up both the NY Times and the LA Times – NY made no mention of bin Laden’s death, while LA did. On the East Coast, it must have been just too late to reprint the morning paper.

Did your morning paper cover the story?

This is a problem that doesn’t effect new media. Blogs and social media accounts can be updated around the clock, and while some sites might not have had a story posted right away, they certainly didn’t publish for 24+ hours without addressing the news of his death. That’s essentially what happened with the NY Times though – it was over a day later until they printed a story.

How New Media Failed

As much as I love new media, the kinks aren’t completely worked out yet and perhaps never will be. There was a LOT of misinformation floating around – it would start as speculation or a joke and escalate until people thought it was the truth. Kinda like a massive game of telephone. That’s often a problem with new media – with thousands of people blogging about a topic or posting about a topic on their social media accounts, you’re bound to get one or two that don’t check their sources.

Not that you’d do that ever. You’re a good blogger, just like me. You and I never make mistakes.

Traditional print media? Well, they make mistakes too sometimes, but they have entire fact-checking departments. Plus, they have time to craft their stories, so they aren’t in a rush to spew out as much information, correct or otherwise, as quickly as possible so that they can be one of the first with breaking news.

Amber Naslund said something on Twitter that night that I thought was really interesting (and true, in my opinion):

@AmberCadabra: Dudes. Social media didn’t “win” to break the news. This isn’t a race. I’d rather have a prez that’s methodical and sure, thanks.

I agree, because while I can be as terribly impatient as the next person, I would hate for the president to get the facts wrong. Speed isn’t always the best.

So did new media win? Did traditional forms of publishing fail? Is this another nail in the coffin for newspapers and magazines? I’m not sure – but it certainly is interesting to see the evolution, isn’t it?


  • KymleeIsAwesome

    I don’t really understand the concept of talking about “traditional” journalism as if modern journalism/publishing is the tradition. It is not. Journalism started as a citizen’s pursuit to inform the population and help bolster democratic participation. Modern journalism is controlled by a handful of conglomerates that carefully control the information published. It is sanitized and the golden era of journalism being part of democratic checks and balances has been lost.
    The only real difference between the traditional, grass roots history of journalism and blogs, is technology. I’d think a blog about the blogging industry would understand that, rather than perpetuating this “us vs them” language and the concept of modern journalism as the tradition. It may be the norm now, but blogs are much closer to journalistic roots than today’s mainstream media conglomerates.
    Sorry that my comment doesn’t really have much to do with the content of the article. I have just read several articles on this site about traditional vs non-traditional publishing and the language seems to play into a debate that seems moot at this point. Is Blog World a thought leader analyzing the progress and growing legitimacy of the blogging media as a journalistic source or is it more vested in maintaining the separation of the new vs old media discussions? If it is the former, it seems a shift in how the mediums are discussed would be in order.

    • allison_boyer

       @KymleeIsAwesome Thanks for your comment!
      In my opinion, there are VERY big differences between blogging and the traditional journalism, even in the “grass roots” sense that you’re talking about. Those differences go beyond technology. But even ONLY talking about it from a technology standpoint, I think it’s an interesting conversation. It isn’t so much about “us versus them, who is better?” but rather “what can we learn from the different ways different segments of the publishing industry operate?” I This post highlights a shortcoming with traditional journalism, but there are also ways in which new media falls short, especially in regards to reporting. It’s exciting to see how the entire industry is evolving.
      For me, examining “blogging media as a journalistic source” isn’t necessarily the answer, or at least not the complete answer. I don’t think that all blogs are journalistic sources, and I don’t think this will ever be the case – and this doesn’t mean that blogs don’t have a place in the publishing world at all.
      At BlogWorld New York, Gary Hoover gave a keynote presentation about the history of publishing and media and how these past events still effect what we’re doing today. It was VERY interesting, and I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in this topic.
      In any case, new media versus old media is a pretty small piece of what we discuss here on the BlogWorld/NMX blog (this piece, for example, is well over a year old). We’d LOVE to have more op-eds covering these topics on this blog, and if you’re interested, I hope you’ll get in touch with some guest post ideas.

      • KymleeIsAwesome

         @allison_boyer  Thank you for responding so diplomatically to my (in retrospect) overly simplistic comment. I absolutely agree that not all bloggers are journalists and not all blogs are journalistic. I suppose it’s not so much that blogging is the same as journalism, but rather that I don’t see how blogging is separate from publishing on a whole. Maybe that’s another topic entirely. Blogs can be journalistic sources, but there are so many that aren’t, so I do appreciate that distinction. And having spent most of my career in online publishing, it still boggles me that blogging hasn’t really been accepted as part of the general mass media.
        I’ll read through more of the posts to get a broader perspective on the content published here. Maybe I was clicking through related content, which might explain why what I saw was about new vs old media. Thanks again!

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