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How Social Media is Killing CNN
By Kalena Jordan (c) 2008
Anyone who spent time online the previous week could not have avoided being exposed to the horrific events of the Mumbai terrorist attack on Thursday.
Those plugged into social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook were privvy to a fascinating but terrible phenomenon. Online viewers the world over were inundated with live, up to the second footage and news items channeling the Mumbai carnage to their computer screens, literally as it unfolded.
I was logged into Twitter and glued to my laptop screen all day. Several bloggers residing in India's financial capital were live-blogging events as they happened and many others who couldn't get online were on the phone feeding updates to news agencies and social media sites.
To keep up to date, I relied on Twitter user @BreakingNewz, who was apparently in touch with several witnesses, hostages and even military personnel that were live at the scene. The updates I was seeing were minutes, and in some cases, hours ahead of news agencies such as CNN and Reuters.
In fact, the news was so instantaneous that Mumbai police had to step in and ask several live bloggers and Twitterers (including BreakingNewz) to stop the updates as they were undermining military operations underway to thwart the terrorists and rescue hostages. Apparently the terrorists were using the live Internet feeds to pinpoint the location of police determined to stop them.
Which brings up an interesting point: does the immediacy of social media have the ability to kill off traditional news agencies such as CNN and BBC?
According to Wikipedia, CNN airs to more than 1.5 billion people in over 212 countries and territories. Impressive, but the Internet has a wider reach and faster growth. So what about on-the-ground reporters? CNN is apparently second only to Britain's BBC News in terms of the number of employed news journalists and worldwide news bureaus. To that I say big deal. There are undoubtedly more people blogging the news in better and faster ways than CNN journalists.
More and more people are ditching their newspaper subscription, switching off the TV and turning to the Internet for their daily news fix. And why wouldn't they? It's faster, cheaper and interactive. They can subscribe to the feeds of digital journalists and bloggers they like, they can search news by region, category or timeline and thanks to social networking, can be informed the very instant news happens in the world.
So could the advent of social media signal the end of traditional news journalism? Yes, I think it could. We've already seen how the Internet has impacted newspaper publishing .
Perhaps topical specialization is one answer to the digital vs paper journalism dilemma. Maki explains it well in his blog post The Future of Content in an Age of Information Overload:
"If newspapers can't compete with blogs and online news sites in terms of speed and variety, perhaps they can trump them in terms of depth or trust. After all, feature-length content with solid, investigative reporting is not something you'll often find on most blogs or personal sites on the web."
Then there's the recent wave of spats between journalists and bloggers. Many of the articles I've read lately feature defensive posturing by some traditional journalists whining that bloggers are "ruining" the art of writing by flooding the Internet with poorly written micro content.
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Perhaps some journalists are feeling threatened by the ability of bloggers to reach the masses before they do? Or is it because they can't handle the fact that the art of writing is now in the grasp of anyone with a PC and an Internet connection?
To those journalists I say - get over yourself. Blogging is the ultimate equalizer. Just like brick and mortar businesses had to come to terms with e-commerce, writers need to adapt to the digital medium and morph their skills to suit, not throw tantrums and claim that the sky is falling.
Having spent much of my secondary and most of my tertiary education training as a journalist, I can understand the resistance they feel to the digital wave and their loyalty to the traditional craft. But the Internet is actually giving journalism a larger audience and providing ordinary people with a voice they never had before.
As Andrew Sullivan writes in his thesis-like post Why I Blog:
"...as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that's enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism."
The naked truth is that the cachet of being a journalist is no longer restricted to the tertiary-educated, long-suffering newspaper cadet. Global Internet uptake and the advent of Web 2.0 has ensured that news can be reported instantly anytime, anywhere, by anyone.
Social media sites provide the channels to reach a mass audience and blogs provide the content. Blogging - even on a micro scale like Twitter - unlocks the journalist inside everyone and that's not a bad thing.
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