The reporter is dead! Long live the reporter!

Tonight showed, yet again, how our current news system is filled with holes, and dying a very long and drawn out death. It’s not as if I’m the first to suggest this…it’s been coming for years and years and years. But in the past few months, it has become painfully obvious that both traditional broadcast channels and the trusted online news sources are both turtles to the hare of the social web.

At least 20 minutes before the first comment was made on CNN.com regarding Continental 1404 sliding off the runway at DIA, there were sizable reports coming in bite-sized 140-character chunks through the waves on Twitter. BreakingNewsOn was the one to hit first with the news: “BOEING 737 CRASHES IN DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — LOCAL TV (BULLETIN),” just as they were the first to report the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a few weeks back.

As soon as I read the report, same with the first Mumbai chatter, I told the people close to me that might be affected to start watching for news and info, and then I started checking everywhere else for more information. In both cases, I had been given much of the important information before CNN.com had their “Breaking News” banner pop up at the top of their page. I knew the flight number, the flight plan, and the low probability that there were any fatalities.

In fact, before CNN.com reported, I witnessed at least two different groups of Twitter friends devolve into discussions about why Denver International’s Airport code was being listed as DIA in news reports, but written as DEN on Kayak.com.

Sure, they’re (we’re) all nerds that get distracted easily, but what that means is that this group of people had already started to calm down knowing that everything was likely going to be fine before major news channels were readying to give their shock-and-awe “breaking news” productions. We are witnessing the changing of the guard.

Even now, after the situation has come to a close and fallen off the radar of significance for most people (no one died, so people don’t have to stay glued to the news…sad, but true), there are still very few reports of what happened…except for Mike Wilson, who was actually on the plane that crashed! He hasn’t been interviewed, hasn’t been debriefed, but keeps on tweeting things like “You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can’t even get a vodka-tonic. Boo.” This is just hilarious, and a little sad.

I guess changing directions for these guys is like cornering a semi, in the snow.

This is a fairly small-scale example of the failure and collapse of the old guard of journalism. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai at the end of November showed how a small team of citizen journalists lead by Dutch journalist Michael van Poppel (good interview here, article here and details here), can change the way people are informed  of (literally) breaking news. Michael’s team at BNOnews.com were so many steps ahead of the “frontline” reporters, triangulating details, it felt like the rest of us had about a 20 minute headstart on everyone else. Amazing.

As our friends on Facebook were starting to pass messages around that something was happening in Mumbai, we were able to tell them how many attacks, at which specific locations, and rough fatality numbers that were much more accurate than what was being reported by other online news retailers (I’m not using that word lightly, either).

It’s time for news to decentralize. Actually, that has already happened…it’s time for the old guard to abandon their post and start to expand their sources, lest they be left in the dust. What other choice is there? My CNN Twitter update didn’t come until 3 hours and 28 minutes after I first heard the news from BNO. But this, again, shouldn’t really be shocking news. CNN bowed to the speed of the social web in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

What’re your thoughts? I’m terribly interested to see other opinions. Are teams like BNOnews going to take over the breaking news space? Are sites like AssociatedContent.com and NowPublic.com going to start to serve as our trusted news sources? Is BleacherReport.com the new CNNsi.com?

Chime in, let me know what you think.

19 thoughts on “The reporter is dead! Long live the reporter!”

  1. Greg,
    You make some great points here. Twitter & other Social Media sites are definitely becoming the “breaking news” points. I have long been both a proponent and fan of citizen journalism, it has a history that pre-dates the current addiction to technology in the sense we understand it but has always made use of the ability of new technology to reach larger audiences – Thomas Paine is my favorite example.
    Where I see the breakpoint is the in depth analysis and it is perhaps here that Traditional media & Journalists can bring the value. Twitter accounts can break news, but is there enough interest in a story to do the in depth analysis. Would Woodward & Bernstein have been able to use Twitter to provide the depth of coverage on the Watergate story – maybe #Watergate would have been a long running meme but I doubt it. Citizen Journalists often lack both the access & the perceived credibility to perform in depth analysis. As you point out in this story it wasn’t long before the discussion turned to the coding of Denver airport.
    I agree Traditional media needs to both recognize the value of Social Media platforms and incorporate them into their news feed if they are to survive. But I also think that Traditional Media needs to find a way of providing the in-depth analysis that they were known for in a format that meets a world that consumes its media in different ways.
    Simon

  2. I’m not here to knock traditional media as I agree with Simon above that they remain a good source of details for the story — after the news has broken. But yes, for breaking news I believe that is something they can no longer claim unless they’re serious about keeping up with the twitter timeline.

    When @breakingnewson first broke the story it was literally 20 full minutes until local Denver news had it updated on their site. During those 20 minutes some folks on Twitter were even replying to me questioning whether the news was true since they couldn’t find it mentioned anywhere else online.

    **side note in addition to Mumbai, Twitter was also the first to hear about the earthquake earlier this year in Southern Cali with some folks including myself tweeting it as things were still shaking!**

    So while this doesn’t spell the end of good journalism, I think traditional media needs to accept that their claim to being a source of “breaking news” is misleading now that Twitter has taken over that function.

  3. Yeah, I really don’t see Twitter (and other microblogging communities) killing traditional media. Just as you have both pointed out, they need to evolve, or they will be rendered insignificant when it comes to breaking news. I do, however, think that we’re going to see a continued rise in citizen journalism.

  4. @breakingnews attributed its Twitter Flash to a local Denbver news bulletin, so clearly a local reporters broke the news first. Where local and national news fall short is in the use of new channels for distributing its news. Few national reporters understand the immediacy of Twitter and few use it. And I doubt many assignments editors or producers use it either. Also, not many local media would have a full-time web staffer working the weekend, so the odds of them updating a site in a timely basis would be rare. As for CNN, they rely on feeds and uploads from local stations and if you’ve ever worked in local news, you would know it’s a spartan crew, who’s likely concentrating on gathering the news. Immediacy is important, but the whole picture is what the media aims for. News reporters rely on story tips, and Twitter is a hyper-tip source that few journalists have embraced. I believe you will start to see more journalists rely on this new technology out of neccessity as it becomes apparent that they will be missing the boat otherwise. But to say traditional journalism is dead is a bit of an exageration; journalists just need a little prodding and encouragement from Poynter, SPJ, et. al., to see the benefit of these social media tools.

  5. What I find interesting about this dynamic, is that I haven’t been following BNO long enough to develop complete trust in their tweets. I have no reason to believe their not trustworthy, but CNN has been a long standing citizen in the news space that has earned my trust (for the most part). So, when I hear of things on BNO, I still find myself going to cnn.com or turning on the TV to that channel to see what the “real” story is… and usually have to wait a half hour or more. That lag is quite amusing, seeing as though CNN is all about Twitter and social media. I definitely agree — a changing of the guard has arrived, but for me, I still feel like some trust has to be built first.

  6. Great post! Yesterday’s Twitter coverage of the Denver DIA runway crash was fast and furious. I lived in Denver for seven years so I have a bunch of friends there and I’m very familiar with the layout of the airport and with the weather. So I tried to follow up, along with Christine Lu who was digging up tons of info. I noticed on the Twitter search timeline that some folks were upset that the information was contradictory and just “bad.” While I don’t agree with that assessment, I think this is the biggest problem the Pillars of News have with this type of information. Are we merely “sources” or are we true “citizen journalists?” The answer is probably “both.”

  7. I think that most of the points – starting with the first sentence “Our current news system is filled with holes” really have no merit. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that anybody close to an incident is going to talk about it first. If CNN had a reporter the THE PLANE or one on the next runway CNN would have been all over it. None of the news stations can be anyplace all of the time.

    Not to mention the fact that it is not hard to game social media. I can appreciate the fact that CNN takes the time to verify things and not get out too much false information – if any. I trust them much more than any joker that can text 140 characters.

  8. I’m probably going to show my age with this comment, but I’ve grown quite tired of those trying to be “first to market.” I’m with Patrick Almond, in that I appreciate news agencies that tame the time to verify facts before releasing it to the public – it’s just the responsible thing to do given their large audience.

    There is no doubt that social networks like Twitter have their place. I too have heard about current events on Twitter before it’s available by the traditional news channels. To me, tweets prevent me from being desensitized to the news – especially horrific events. I can only take so much tragedy before I turn off – I think many can attest to this after 9/11.

    I now consciously limit my news channels. I know that the speed of “news” delivery will only feed my morbid curiosity and compiling it may even win me a round of Trivial Pursuit. In my old age, it’s much more important 1. to verify the truth of the news 2. to do something useful with it.

  9. Patrick, you’re totally right about the fact that BNOnews picked up on the story from a local TV station (I really should have pointed that out here at the beginning). That said, my larger point here is not that social media is going to take over. Rather, social media is changing the game right now, and if the CNN’s and ABC’s of the world want to still be the first to report to the masses, they’re going to need to pick up some serious speed.

    I don’t think that the social web will ever replace more traditional news channels, as you both Patrick and Caleb have mentioned, because after the news breaks, it still needs to be collected, compiled, and analyzed. There are two pieces to every story. And as a newspaper and magazine lover myself, I really hope that they never become obsolete.

    So, as the web spreads out and people connect to the news from a wide variety of devices on a more frequent basis, our reporters have to figure out how to deliver news to us as it’s happening. Yes, the news needs to be valid, factual. I’m not suggesting in any way that you should be looking to the chatter through the Twitter grapevine for your up-to-the-second facts, because of course it often devolves quickly.

    There’s a big difference between Twitter chatter and an up-and-coming news team like BNOnews. I’m having a blast watching them grow, because they really are beating everyone else to the punch and they deliver fantastically on-point facts, seemingly as the events are happening. Who knows what they’re looking to do in the future, but for now, they just happen to be the most agile news source (seemingly, on the planet).

  10. I'm not here to knock traditional media as I agree with Simon above that they remain a good source of details for the story — after the news has broken. But yes, for breaking news I believe that is something they can no longer claim unless they're serious about keeping up with the twitter timeline.

    When @breakingnewson first broke the story it was literally 20 full minutes until local Denver news had it updated on their site. During those 20 minutes some folks on Twitter were even replying to me questioning whether the news was true since they couldn't find it mentioned anywhere else online.

    **side note in addition to Mumbai, Twitter was also the first to hear about the earthquake earlier this year in Southern Cali with some folks including myself tweeting it as things were still shaking!**

    So while this doesn't spell the end of good journalism, I think traditional media needs to accept that their claim to being a source of “breaking news” is misleading now that Twitter has taken over that function.

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