Yesterday, I was interviewed by News Channel 15 about the role social media played in the development of the Osama bin Laden story. My take in a nutshell? Social media is definitely changing the news gathering (and reporting) process, but it’s decidedly NOT true that the mainstream news media is dead. In fact, the two have become somewhat interdependent upon one another.
It’s true that a lot of people first heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death via social media, and as social media use becomes more widespread, this will only become more common. The main advantages of getting the news from sites like Twitter and Facebook are speed and scale: You can read the news as it happens, and communicate with people all around the world in real time.
The traditional media, however, still play a vitally important role. First, the news media offer substance. After all, there’s only so much you can say in a 140-character Tweet, but a news story can provide the depth we need to truly make sense of what’s happening. Also, the media provides credibility, helping people sort out rumor from truth. Anyone who has been fooled into believing a fabricated story knows how important this is.
Today, there’s an important interplay between social media and traditional news media. Social media is where I go to learn, in real time, what’s important to those I trust–my contacts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. But then most of us go to the traditional news media to find out more. Then we may go back to social media to share what we find and communicate what aspects are important to us–and the cycle begins again.
Need an example? Look no further than the bin Laden story itself. It’s true that bin Laden’s death was first “reported” in a Tweet by Keith Urbahn, former chief of staff for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. However, Urbahn then tweeted “”Don’t know if its true, but let’s pray it is,” indicating the skepticism we all have when confronted with unsubstantiated information. Urbahn’s next Tweet? “Ladies, gents, let’s wait to see what the President says. Could be misinformation or pure rumor.” In short, he was waiting for more information from a credible source.
Perhaps the best evidence of the interrelationship between social media and the traditional news media, however, is the source of Urbahn’s original statement: As he Tweeted yesterday morning, “My source was a connected network TV news producer. Stories about ‘the death of MSM’ because of my ‘first’ tweet are greatly exaggerated.”
So while it’s clear that Twitter was vital in helping us understand what was happening, as it happened, it did so with–not at the exclusion of–the traditional news media. And that’s why I have to agree with Simon Dumenco of AdAge MediaWorks, who said this yesterday: “a lot of the hyperventilating about Twitter ‘breaking’ the bin Laden story is just bullshit.”