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?